Jimmy Carr, David Cameron and tax avoidance – a moral dilemma?

June 22, 2012, 2:43 PM GMT+0

The Prime Minister made headlines this week for calling comedian Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance scheme ‘morally wrong’.

Mr Carr quickly apologised for what he called a ‘terrible error of judgment’, and said his ‘error’ came about when his financial adviser told him there was a legal way for him to pay less tax.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron is taking flak for not criticising tax-avoiding Tory supporters, including Gary Barlow, and Downing Street is reportedly moving away from plans to make senior ministers’ tax returns public.

We asked you – is it morally wrong to avoid paying tax, even if it’s legal? Or do you think morals have nothing to do with tax avoidance when it’s within the law?

  • The largest proportion of you said it was morally wrong to avoid paying tax, even if it’s legal. Most of you said it was unfair that those with the most money seem to be the ones who manage to pay the lowest proportion of their income in taxes.
  • A smaller, yet still substantial, proportion of those who took part in the discussion said that morals have nothing to do with tax avoidance if it is legal. You argued that taxes are too high, that it’s up to the Government to change the law rather than for people to police themselves, and suggested that all citizens would avoid paying tax if they were able.

Tell us your view: Do you think tax avoidance a moral issue?

And if you found a legal loophole that allowed you to pay less tax, would you capitalise on it?

Q: Is it morally wrong to avoid paying tax, even if it’s legal?

VIEWPOINT: 'Tax avoidance is morally wrong, even if it's through legal channels'

“Just because you are paid ridiculous sums of money to entertain people does not mean you should not pay ALL your tax dues. Nurses, teachers, policemen cannot use these tax methods, so why should Carr and Co. be allowed to?DHP, London

Minimising one's tax bill by claiming legitimate expenses is ok, but when it's quite clear that you ought to pay tax and you avoid by it by 'trickery', in effect, or manipulating the rules, it is morally poor. If you earn the money you should pay your fair share of taxes out of it, and saying that you now nominally live in a tax haven is just not good enough. It should be fairly clear to anyone with any sense that there is a difference between claiming fair tax allowances and avoiding tax you ought to be payingJFE, Midlands

If you are to reap the benefits of living in a society (which is unavoidable) then you have a responsibility to contribute to keep its upkeep. Why should people with less money pay their dues so that a greedy cheater doesn’t have to?” Karl, London

“The country needs the revenue raised by taxes in order to provide the services we all need at some time, and those who are avoiding paying tax are not showing responsibility towards the rest of the community, hence 'immoral'. Also, those not paying the right amount are usually the very ones who earn a lot and could afford to do so. I would regard paying ones tax as the equivalent of giving to charity” Anon, Haworth

Only the rich, who can afford to pay tax, can afford these schemes. If the poorer have to pay tax then so should the rich, as it is a greater burden on the poorer. Of course it is morally wrong to avoid paying tax. Don't the rich use the services that tax payers provide?June F, Yorkshire

“Such people are asking everyone else to pick up the costs of public services from which they benefit in just the same way as everyone else. Why should the extremely well-off be allowed to get away with such things? … Cameron is spot on in highlighting the issue – it is about time that everyone in the country stepped up to the plate and stopped trying to take advantage of such egregious and anti-social measures to increase their own wealth at the expense of everyone else” Keith P, Felixstowe

People on high incomes should not be able to avoid paying tax. Just because they can afford to hire 'clever' (crooked) accountants they avoid their moral obligationsAnon

Everyone living in this country benefits from the proceeds of tax and therefore should be prepared to pay their fair share. Just because some rich people have the benefit of accountants and lawyers to advise them of how to avoid paying tax that does not make it acceptable” Anon

VIEWPOINT: 'Morals have nothing to do with tax avoidance when it is within the law'

“It should not have anything to do with morals. It should not be up to the individual at that personal level to work out if he should or should not morally pay tax. If the majority of the population then thinks it is wrong, then the law should be changed. The majority of people would pay the tax they are legally bound to do and no more. If it seems the richest are able to exploit loopholes, then those loopholes should be got rid ofAnon

It’s about taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you. If you know how, everyone can do it” Steve, Woolacombe

Tax laws are basically arbitrary. Who is to say if 40% is the right amount for higher rate taxpayers or not? Therefore, it seems only fair to pay the minimum necessary under the lawAnon

“Laws are there for society to lay a moral background; anything immoral comes under a law of some sort. If the Government want to make tax avoidance a moral issue they need to change the laws first. If it’s not illegal how can you be morally judged by anyone else who is also doing nothing illegal?” Tracy, Powys

“Nobody likes paying taxes anyway. It is fundamentally wrong to complain about other people dodging tax when we would all happily do the same thing. An increase in tax revenues should be achieved by closing legal loophole to increase revenues, not trying to exert hypocritical moral pressure on those who use themAnon

It is for the Government to ensure tax is paid. Honestly, no-one likes paying taxAnon

If there is a legal tax loophole, it is the legislators who are being immoral by allowing it to happen given they have a wider duty to the public and are in a position to close that loophole. If a wealthy person only effectively pays 1% tax the law is an ass. Human beings will always use a loophole if they can” Anon

Tell us your view: Do you think tax avoidance a moral issue?

And if you found a legal loophole that allowed you to pay less tax, would you capitalise on it?