Sharma and the Agri-Brigade: bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers
In England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that, in India, agricultural universities, research institutes, public sector units, and other organisations also frequently gather to talk about ways to improve farmers’ income.
He comments sardonically that while the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers increasingly sink into a cycle of deprivation.
As he points out, in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – we add that in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers.
The British farming press is now pointing out that large numbers of the UK’s 86,000+ family farmers are facing a threat from the government’s new universal credit (UC). If administered as currently designed, it will have a devastating impact on many of the UK’s most economically vulnerable family farms.
Universal credit will be ‘rolled out’ regionally by the DWP to cover the whole of UK by 2022 – calculated on monthly rather than annual income and it will assume that farmers have a “minimum income floor” which assumes that all applicants earn a wage equivalent to the national minimum wage of about £230 a week which is not the case. Private Eye (The Agri Brigade column) comments:
“None of this is remotely appropriate for farmers, and it shows the folly of trying to introduce a single universal form of income support for all.
On many family farms, where one or two people may work up to 250 acres, there is often no income for up to 10 or even 1 I months in a typical trading year. The sale of a crop of lambs, cattle or grain (or receipt of an EU subsidy) means revenue is raised in just one or two months of the year so the DWP’s assumption of a “basic income floor” each month doesn’t apply. There are also fears that receipts by claimants that rake their income above the basic floor in some months will disrupt entitlement to UC in subsequent months. (And farming losses in some months cannot be offset against a profit in others)”
Shades of the I, Daniel Blake experience:
When the UC administered by the DWP comes into force, skilled hard-working farmers will have to visit unfamiliar Job Centres to register for the benefit. ln addition. They will have to undergo face-to-face interviews over their eligibility for UC and be allocated a work coach to advise them on how to improve their access to better paid employment. Given the difficulties it seems certain many family farms currently claiming tax credits (administered by HMRC) will not apply for universal credit despite their poverty.
An unworkable system
Farming UK reports that a spokesman for the Ulster Farmers Union said: “UC makes it impossible to use prospective incomes or losses, which is often what farmers depend on. The fact that farming is seasonal where there will be long periods of time when a farmer will make a loss in expectation of more profitable times at some other stage during the year. In addition, having to do monthly real-time accounts is an extra burden upon farmers, in an already hard-pressed industry, and to hire someone to prepare these accounts would be an extra expense”.
As the title has it: “bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers”.
Parliament’s own website heads the summary of the Committee of Public Accounts report on Revenue and Customs: “HMRC still failing UK taxpayers”.
Its lamentable performance in simple tasks such as answering the telephone is on record and its failure to collect a reasonable amount of offshore tax evaded was published in November. It spoke of 11,000 job cuts since 2010 & 40,000 since 2004. Read the summary by the chair, MP Meg Hillier, here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2015/hmrc-performance-report-published-15-16/
“HMRC must do more to ensure all due tax is paid. The public purse is missing out and taxpayers expect and deserve better.
“We are deeply disappointed at the low number of prosecutions by HMRC for tax evasion. We believe it is important for HMRC to send a clear message to those who seek to evade tax that the penalties will be severe and public. It’s also important that the majority who play by the rules, paying their tax on time and in full, see that those who don’t will face the consequences.
“Tax avoidance also remains a serious concern. Too many avoidance schemes run rings around the taxman, operating legally but gaining advantages never intended by Parliament. If tax law is to be improved then HMRC must as a priority provide Parliament with comprehensive details of avoidance. HMRC must also rapidly improve its customer service, previously described by the PAC as abysmal and now even worse – to the extent it could be considered a genuine threat to tax collection.
“It beggars belief that, having made disappointing progress on tax evasion and avoidance, the taxman also seems incapable of running a satisfactory service for people trying to pay their fair share.”
- Report: HMRCs performance in 2014-15
- Report: HMRCs performance in 2014-15 (PDF)
- Inquiry: Report: HMRCs performance in 2014-15
The FT reports that people of Crickhowell agree: the town’s traders have submitted tax plans to HMRC, using offshore arrangements favoured by multinationals. They hope that their ‘tax rebellion’ will spread to other towns forcing the Government to tackle how Amazon, for example, paid £11.9million tax last year on £5.3billion of UK sales. Their rationale: High street coffee shop owner Steve said: ‘I have always paid every penny of tax I owe, and I don’t object to that. What I object to is paying my full tax when my big name competitors are doing the damnedest to dodge theirs.’
Yesterday, Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn MP, outlined his vision for a more productive and fairer economy for all at a policy seminar.
If believed, it is logical to cut taxes for the rich and big business, not to bother to invest in the workforce, and be intensely relaxed about the running down of public services as is happening.
He affirmed: “Where there are tough choices, we will always protect public services and support for the most vulnerable”.
Corbyn’s alternative, laid out in The Economy in 2020 and accessed via the campaign website, is to build a rebalanced, prosperity-focused economy, based on growth and high quality jobs.
His leadership campaign has no big private donors. He wants Labour to become a democratic social movement again, dedicated to real change:
”Cuts are not the way to prosperity; Britain needs a publicly-led expansion and reconstruction of the economy, with a big rise in investment levels. We must ensure that our national housing, transport, digital and energy networks are among the best in the world.
“This requires the establishment of an National Investment Bank to promote infrastructure upgrades and support for innovation. Labour 2020 will make large reductions in the £93 billion of corporate tax relief and subsidies. These funds can be used to establish the National Investment Bank to head a multi-billion pound programme of infrastructure upgrades and support for high-tech and innovative industries”.
On taxation and tax justice, Jeremy argued: “Paying tax is not a burden. It is the subscription we pay to live in a civilised society. A collective payment we all make for the collective goods we all benefit from: schools, hospitals, libraries, street lights, pensions, the list is endless.
“Under these plans outlined today Labour 2020 will make the tax system more progressive, and follow a five-point plan to tackle tax avoidance and evasion:
- Stronger anti-avoidance rules brought into UK tax law.
- The aim of country-by-country reporting for multinational corporations.
- Reform of small business taxation to tackle avoidance and evasion.
- Enforce proper regulation of companies in the UK to ensure that they pay what they owe.
- A reversal of the cuts to staff in HMRC and at Companies House, taking on more staff at both, to ensure that HMRC can collect the taxes the country so badly needs.
“The UK has shifted from taxing income and wealth to taxing consumption; and from taxing corporations to taxing individuals. We must ensure that those with the most, pay the most, not just in monetary terms but proportionally too.”
“What responsible government committed to closing the deficit would give a tax break to the richest 4% of households?”
Political madness – or is it? As huge debts remain uncollected, HMRC scrutinises compulsory returns from pensioners with modest incomes.
News from a reader in her seventies with income from pensions and savings below the national average, after tax has been deducted, prompted a search of collected data and online reports.
Her equally baffled MP had forwarded her case in 2008 to the Treasury Committee and the chairman’s assistant replied: “The issue you describe does seem confusing” and undertook to draw it to the attention of the committee before taking evidence from HMRC in autumn.
Needless to say HMRC compels her to continue, despite having all the information in their departments, which are said to be unable to share it, one officer saying angrily: “Why don’t you employ an accountant?”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Independent reported that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have caught only five of thirty people, some owing hundreds of thousands of pounds – and many owing millions – identified as costing the UK more than £844m.
Strangely, the government has been reducing staff and budget from this revenue-collecting department, despite concerns ant the shortfall in income due. A few examples follow:
2004: 15,000 jobs cut since March 2004 with 165 offices earmarked for closure or in the process of closing.
2008: closure of a further 95 offices across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland affecting up to 12,300 staff.
2010: the Public and Commercial Services Union warn that a decision by Revenue & Customs to close 130 offices would cause job losses, undermine tax collection and hit advice and support to taxpayers.
2014: the end for all 281 walk-in tax enquiry centres, with a further 23 large sites across the UK facing imminent closure. More than 2,000 fixed-term workers compulsorily redundant despite its own business plan revealing a staffing shortfall (staff levels decline, page 16, below):
The Public and Commercial Services Union criticises HMRC’s intention to privatise more of its debt collection and post handling, reporting huge backlogs of post and private debt collectors already being brought in to chase up tax credits overpayments.
Perhaps this apparent inefficiency and inconsistency is not political madness, but the outworking of a hidden agenda, with privatisation as the objective.