This is a guest post from an anonymous activist taking part in this Saturday’s UK Uncut action in central London and in the campaign against ATOS. You can find another post by someone who’s voting for Arcadia here
When UK Uncut held their first protest against Vodafone last year, a banner stuck out in my mind more than any other: ‘Cuts to welfare = £7bn, Vodafone tax dodge = £6bn.’ For me, that banner summed up the protest more than any other. Why was this enormous company being permitted to dodge tax that could help the most vulnerable? Why would ministers insist on making these cuts when there is such an obvious way to avoid them?
Since that first protest a year ago, a lot has changed. Tax chief Dave Hartnett has stepped down; the National Audit Office suspects that the Vodafone deal might be illegal; the amount of tax Vodafone has dodged could be as much as £8bn, and the government is making even deeper welfare cuts than originally planned. This is a ridiculous and unnecessary situation, particularly when you realise what the Welfare Reform Bill actually means.
According to ministers, the bill will see 94% of claimants lose Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) after a year. ESA is a benefit to help those who are disabled but still able to work. This change could affect people who have very serious illnesses, from Parkinson’s and cancer, to bowel disease, kidney failure and schizophrenia. The government is saying, if you don’t recover after a year – tough. But Vodafone’s tax dodge could pay for another year of ESA for more than 1.5million people.
We’re entering a situation where those who need extra support are treated like suspects. Now, the private company ATOS will carry out gruelling tests on the disabled to see if they deserve disability benefits. Of all the people currently incapable of work, only 9% of them met the standards set by ATOS. Do we really think 91% of people were exaggerating their illnesses? Well, no – because 70% of ATOS decisions taken to appeal are overturned. But that doesn’t matter to ATOS, because they get paid according to how many people they assess as fit.
So this is a scam, isn’t it? It’s a scam to give public services to profit-driven companies, while the tax that could pay for those services is siphoned away using dodgy backroom deals. It’s a scam by a government which seems more interested in romancing tax-dodging corporations than caring for the people it is supposed to represent.
Now it looks as though elements of the Welfare Reform Bill may be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. A report warned elements of the bill may amount to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment.’
Vodafone, on the other hand, are dodging punishment in the same way they dodged tax. They’ve never had to explain why they chose not to pay tax that could support some of Britain’s most vulnerable citizens.
But that’s OK, because UK Uncut doesn’t need a court: UK Uncut can challenge Vodafone in the streets. So when you’re casting your vote for UK Uncut’s Christmas special, pick Vodafone. Let them know you’re onto them. Let them know you’ve got better ideas about how their tax could be spent. We don’t have to live in a society which rewards the rich and punishes the most vulnerable. Things can be different. As Vodafone themselves put it so well, it’s power to yoU(K Uncut).
This Saturday 17th December, people all over the country will be shutting down high streets branches of either Vodafone or Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia empire as part of UK Uncut’s Christmas Special. Vote now in the run-off, read the callout then check the actions list for an action near you!