Labour Will End "Unpatriotic" Tax-Dodging, Jeremy Corbyn Vows
The Labour leader used his conference keynote speech to attack tax avoidance as “vandalism”, singling out former BHS owner Sir Philip Green.
Jeremy Corbyn used his second keynote speech as Labour leader to launch an excoriating attack on wealthy individuals and corporations that avoid UK taxes – and pledged that a Labour government led by him would end the practice forever.
"There is nothing more unpatriotic than not paying your taxes," he told delegates in the packed-out conference hall in Liverpool, to loud applause.
"It is an act of vandalism, damaging our NHS, damaging older people’s social care, damaging younger people’s education. So a Labour government will make shabby tax avoidance a thing of the past."
HMRC estimates that illegal tax evasion and legal tax avoidance together cost the government about £34 billion a year, though in practice most experts agree much less than this could ever actually be collected. Successive Labour and Conservative governments have pledged to crack down on tax avoidance.
Corbyn also singled out former BHS owner Sir Philip Green for criticism over his tax affairs in a section of the speech attacking the Conservative government.
"They’ve cut taxes for the privileged few, sold off our national assets to them, always on the cheap, and turned a blind eye to their chronic tax avoidance," he said of the Conservatives.
"They’re so committed to the interests of the very richest they recruited Sir Philip Green into government as something called an efficiency tsar. Well, government might be a bit more efficient if the super rich like Sir Philip actually paid their taxes."
Green, who owns Topshop, was knighted by the last Labour government but was appointed as efficiency tsar by David Cameron in 2010. Green's companies are owned through his wife, who is based in Monaco, which means his family's tax liabilities are legally – but substantially – reduced versus what he would pay if he and his wife were UK-resident.
Corbyn also warned British businesses that they should expect to pay more tax under a Labour government, in order to fund his plans for a national education service that would make free education available to people of all ages, reintroduce grants, and introduce universal free childcare.
"This is the deal Labour will offer to business: To help pay for a national education service, we will ask you pay a little more in tax," he said.
"We’ve already started to set out some of this, pledging to raise corporation tax by less than 1.5% to give an education maintenance allowance [EMA] to college students and grants to university students so that every young learner can afford to support themselves as they develop skills and get qualifications.
"Business shares in economic success and it must contribute to it too."
EMA was a scheme introduced by the last Labour government that offered students at college or sixth form up to £30 a week to help pay for their studies. It was scrapped in England by the coalition government.
Corbyn promised that "good businesses" would benefit as Labour clamped down on those which avoided tax, as "you should not be undercut by those that don’t play by the rules".
In his hour-long address, Corbyn also pledged to strengthen workers' rights, help self-employed workers, introduce a £10 minimum wage, and end zero-hours contracts.