Tax the Wealthy to tackle the Social Emergency – Richard Burgon MP

“A one-off 10 per cent tax on wealth above £100m would raise £69 billion. That could create a huge Social Emergency Fund to help people through this crisis.”

Richard Burgon MP

By Richard Burgon MP

As I write, National Insurance hikes have just come in – another attack on the living standards of millions of working people.

This is no-one off. Just last week, energy bills went up by 54%, the minimum wage increase doesn’t keep up with rising prices, meaning it is in reality a cut, and benefits have fallen in real terms, with some now at their lowest level since the early 1980s. It’s an offensive on all fronts on the vast majority of people.

We hear a lot about a cost of living crisis, but we need to remember that this is not true across the board. Some are doing very well at the minute.

Just a quick look at recent headlines shows it is far from a crisis for everyone: “Record profits spark £1.9bn bonus windfall at Barclays”, “Oil giant Shell celebrates 14-fold rise in profits” and “Bonuses return at Lloyds as profits surge fivefold to £6.9bn”.

The billionaire class increased its wealth by £290m per day in the first year of the Covid crisis alone and billions were handed out in corrupt government contracts.

The simple truth is that there is plenty of wealth but it is increasingly in fewer and fewer hands. In the fifth-biggest economy on Earth there is simply no need for anyone to go to bed cold, hungry or homeless.

This isn’t down to incompetence of the government. In fact, it is exceptionally competent at delivering for the people it represents. The Tory party exists to ensure that the wealth in society is sucked from the many into the hands of a few – like Robin Hood in reverse they rob from the poor and give to the rich.

The policies they are imposing now are the latest in a wave of attacks on the working class. Thatcher privatised much of our publicly-owned industry and smashed trade union rights making it harder for workers to fight back. Cameron’s Tories (along with the Lib Dems) used austerity to slash our public services and weaken the protections of the social security system.

We would be in a much better place to handle this crisis if those attacks hadn’t succeeded. Essential public services, like energy, would be run for the public interest and not private profit. P&O wouldn’t be able to sack hundreds of workers at the flick of a Zoom switch. Our social security system would offer proper support instead of allowing huge numbers of people to fall into absolute poverty.

So it is essential that we defeat the next wave of attacks. Millions of people will benefit if we do. As socialists we have two key tasks: to fight back against each and every Tory attack by building the biggest movement possible – on the streets, in parliament and in every workplace; and to show people that there is indeed an alternative.

So I welcome the decision of the TUC to organise a national cost-of-living demonstration on 18 June and we must all build it. I would also encourage everyone to get involved in the regular People’s Assembly Against Austerity days-of-action against the cost-of-living crisis.

Workers will also fight back through strike action and it’s essential that our movement stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

On the policy front, there is no end of alternatives that we can fight for that are backed by a majority of people. From a Windfall Tax on energy super-profits to a publicly-run energy system, from a minimum wage of £15 per hour to a social security system that provides a dignified living for all, from free school meals for all school children (learning from what Labour in Wales is doing) to price caps on essential foods – a move backed by seven-in-ten voters and even by two-thirds of of Tory voters!

One area I am going to continue fighting on is the demand for higher taxes on the super-rich and billionaire class.

Earlier this week it was revealed that while Shell’s profits have surged not only has it again paid no tax on its UK oil & gas profits but the Tories handed them a tax rebate of £90 million this year! Clearly, we need a Windfall Tax on their mega-profits – with the money used to lower energy bills.

It’s great that Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham has launched a Workers’ Commission on Profiteering and called on the Tories to tax “the vast profits piled up by the pandemic profiteers and energy producers who are awash with cash”.

There a vast amounts of wealth in the hands of the very richest that could be taxed. Working with the Labour Assembly Against Austerity, in Parliament, I recently presented a petition signed by over 60,000 people calling for National Insurance hikes for millions of people to be replaced with a 1.5% tax on any wealth over £5 million, which would raise the same amount of money.

Another option is to make changes to Capital Gains Tax. This is paid on profits when selling assets like shares or a second home but it is paid at a lower rate than money earned by going out to work. How is that fair? Simply equalising this and removing exemptions would alone raise around £17bn a year which could, for example, fund a National Care Service.

While a one-off 10 per cent tax on wealth above £100m would raise £69 billion. That could create a huge Social Emergency Fund to help people through this crisis and help rebuild communities hit by a decade of austerity and the slowest pay growth in 200 years. The right-wing press may scream and shout but it is a question of priorities.

When people are going to face the greatest biggest decline in annual living standards since records began 70 years ago, then I think it is time that our whole movement called on the government to tax wealth – not workers.

  • Richard Burgon MP is Labour MP for Leeds East and Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs
  • You can follow Richard on facebook, instagram and twitter.
Richard Burgon addresses the House of Commons ©UK Parliament_Jessica Taylor

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