Tax Dodging Bill campaign:

the story so far

Following the Chancellor’s Budget announcements, campaigner Luke Harman reflects on how far we’ve come with the Tax Dodging Bill campaign, and why we must continue to strive for justice.

Cast your mind back to the start of the year. What were you doing? What resolutions had you made? What great plans did you have for 2015?

Many of us had resolved to support a campaign for a Tax Dodging Bill; a law which would help make tax fairer and raise funds to fight poverty in the UK and overseas.

Starting as a niche issue seven or eight years ago, it’s incredible that tax has now become a mainstream campaigning subject. This was reflected for me in the diversity of organisations who gathered on a cold January afternoon ahead of the campaign launch. They ranged from Action Aid and Oxfam to Church Action on Poverty and the National Union of Students.

Campaigners in London pose for a photo after a successful training event in February

Over the course of the campaign more than 82,000 people signed the petition demanding tax laws to make it harder for big businesses to dodge taxes in the UK and developing countries. But this was only the starting point.

As the general election began to dominate the news cycle, thousands of people emailed, met, phoned and questioned their parliamentary candidates to ask them to back the bill if elected. Many candidates reported that they were contacted about tax dodging more than any other issue. Several MPs went on to raise our concerns in Parliament.

Meanwhile, we also hit the media in a number of ways:

  1. Campaigners got together on College Green to chase the missing millions lost to tax dodging.
Campaigners dressed as George Osbourne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls take part in a ‘cash grab’ stunt on budget day in March

2. Letters to editors and opinion pieces were featured in newspapers across the UK.

A few clippings we’ve saved from throughout the campaign

3. We delivered wheelbarrows of chocolate coins to Downing Street to emphasise how much could be raised by a Tax Dodging Bill.

A group of activist deliver wheelbarrows of coins following the UK general election

4. The campaign was even raised on BBC’s Question Time and other news shows.

5. We made the news again when we revealed that a huge majority of the British public (85%) across the political spectrum think that tax avoidance by large companies is morally wrong -even if it’s legal. [1]

Thanks to this, every political party has made commitments to tackle tax dodging and the Conservatives pledged to raise at least £5 billion a year from a clamp down on the issue.

Endorsements for the Tax Dodging Bill campaign came from a broad range of people and organisations: former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, the former head of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge MP, nearly 70 economists and academics and more than 50 multi-faith leaders to name a few.

We raised our voices and MPs listened. But now we must ensure this positive response leads to real action.

Although the public mandate for action on tax dodging is indisputable, there was little mention of it in the Queen’s Speech in May.

So, ahead of the ‘emergency’ Budget this week, we headed down to the Treasury again to demand a crackdown on tax dodging.

George Osbourne recognised the importance of tackling tax dodging. The Government has promised to invest more in HMRC to help them tackle tax dodging and to eliminate some specific tax breaks.

But we didn’t see a comprehensive Tax Dodging Bill that is so desperately needed, particularly by those in developing countries where collecting tax revenue is often a matter of life and death.

The campaign for a single bill will now be put on hold. But the issue is still very much alive, with the movement for tax justice growing here in the UK and internationally.

We’ll regroup over the summer and look to see what opportunities this new Government brings for our tax campaigning.

Until then, I urge you to take pride in how far we’ve already come.

This struggle for tax justice is a struggle for human freedom; we still have a long way to go.

‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.’

- Martin Luther King

Movements of the past remind me that things do change, as long as we believe and as long as we keep striving for it.

[1] ComRes poll, November 2014.

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