Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Today I cast my 1,662nd vote as an MP -; one of the final votes of the current Parliament -; as the government’s Finance Bill came before the House of Commons.
The government has been widely criticised for rushing the 337 page bill through Parliament in a single day, without anywhere near enough time for proper scrutiny.
But worse than that, the bill was a golden opportunity for the government to get serious about clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, and they missed it.
In the last few days I’ve received well over 100 emails from constituents calling for much stronger measures to tackle tax avoidance. The government’s timidity means that they’ll have to wait for a Labour government to deliver on this issue.
The Finance Bill’s ill thought through proposals showed just how far the Tories’ spending commitments can’t be trusted.
While the loss of revenue due to tax avoidance and evasion is estimated to be around £7 billion, independent analysis of the Finance Bill’s provisions has suggested that the Treasury will continue to lose a staggering £4 billion in revenue due to the inadequacy of its tax avoidance measures.
George Osborne has suggested the government could save an extra £12 billion from the welfare budget, but given how extreme benefit cuts have been in the last five years, it’s difficult to see how he could go any further without destroying the safety net altogether.
The benefit cap, which has restricted the amount of rent that people can pay in Islington, has already led to hundreds of families having to leave the borough. The Tories have pledged to restrict it even further, which in itself would be devastating for Islington. We’ve yet to hear what other plans they have for welfare cuts if re-elected.
There’s a gulf between what the government has promised and what they can deliver without resorting to regressive measures like raising VAT. Yesterday Labour pledged not to raise VAT if elected to government, and to instead pass a new, progressive Finance Bill to restore fairness and equity to our tax system.
We would reintroduce the 50p top rate of income tax for earnings over £150,000 a year, make sure that profits on investments like hedge funds pay their fair share of tax, cut and then freeze rates for small businesses and hold firm to our pledge not to raise VAT.
Compared to a Tory agenda that has prioritised tax cuts for millionaires over hard pressed families, the choice could not be clearer.