Friday’s Metro had two letters from readers, both supporting David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ but both fail, rather like Mr. Cameron, to detail what the ‘Big Society’ actually is. Volunteers work all over Britain every day of the week in hospitals, charity shops, as special constables and many other situations. There is nothing wrong with the Prime Minister’s idea in principle, but shouldn’t he be concentrating on helping to create paid employment first? Surely increasing the variety of voluntary work necessarily decreases paid employment?
The lower income families simply cannot afford to work even one day a week on a voluntary basis. The Institute for Fiscal Studies still shows the lowest income strata of society as losing the most in terms of cutbacks to reduce the Public Sector Net Borrowing. This borrowing was largely created in 2008 (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=206) by rescuing financial institutions from bankruptcy and introducing ‘Quantitative Easing’, hardly situations created by the less well off. This government should be looking at the revenue losses that are being incurred by Corporation Tax avoidance schemes (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/feb/02/tax-gap-avoidance) that were around £10bn – £12bn in 2009 but now stand much higher, and losses to Income Tax revenue by avoidance through foreign domicile. This is evidenced by companies such as Google with £6bn of UK revenue but only £8m in corporation tax (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/markets/article-23950352-googles-pound-6bn-of-uk-revenue-but-only-pound-8m-in-corporation-tax.do) and Arcadia plc – owners of Top Shop, Burtons, Dorothy Perkins and other high street multiples – run by Sir Philip Green, whose wife Tina is the direct owner of Arcadia, and she is officially a resident of Monaco. This enabled her to gain a tax-free £1.2bn dividend in 2005 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12027256). As Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: “It will be hard to maintain public support for tax when it looks increasingly optional for big companies and the super-rich, who increasingly float free from the network of mutual obligations that underpin any civilised society.” (ibid guardian.co.uk). That brings us back to society, or the ‘Big’ one as it happens – it is a matter of priorities and Mr. Cameron is wrong to champion voluntary work when the unemployed are already being squeezed. He should be chasing the tax avoidance losses that are predicted to top £100bn over the next four years.