Belfast Telegraph

It's time to talk about tax reform

Jim Clarken

AS the Executive debates whether to introduce welfare reforms, or face Westminster's £5m-a-month penalty, a new Oxfam report demonstrates that austerity policies alone do not work.

Austerity is disproportionately affecting Northern Ireland and the promised growth has failed to materialise. The UK's one-size-fits-all approach does not acknowledge our special context.

Poverty has increased to 22%, we have chronic long-term unemployment and rising youth unemployment and rising inequality.

Reforms to rebalance our economy towards the private sector would see women bear the brunt of job losses, as they make up two-thirds of the public sector.

Those who are paying the price did not cause this economic crisis.

The world's elite gathered in Switzerland last week for the World Economic Forum. These policy-makers must consider how austerity is exacerbating poverty.

The richer are taking more, while the poor are taking less. Only Europe's richest 10% have seen their wealth rise since the recession began in 2008.

Oxfam has seen this before. The ruinous structural adjustment policies imposed on Latin America, South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and 1990s: a medicine that sought to cure the disease by killing the patient.

There is an opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Oxfam is calling for a new economic and social model of inclusive growth, by prioritising a stimulus programme of investment, capital spending and employment creation.

The impact of welfare reforms could be balanced by progressive policies, such as increased spending on infrastructure to boost construction and fill the housing gap, particularly social housing.

UK tax reforms are needed, raising billions for our public services by increasing tax on the wealthiest and introducing a Financial Transaction Tax, while tackling tax evasion and avoidance. Oxfam estimates that the world's governments lose almost £100bn a year by allowing wealth to be obscured in tax havens.

It's not a question of whether we can afford to pursue alternatives to austerity. The question is whether we can afford not to.

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