Cumbernauld and Shipley

A couple of weeks ago I was on a British Airways flight to Italy. These days this involves a ‘short haul economy dining’ experience lovingly crafted by Marks & Spencer. Gone are the days of infinite free mini wines on the way to tipping a man in a gimp suit into a canal in some desolate European burgh. It’s now £2.30 for a ‘Twinings English Breakfast tea 12oz’ on the nation’s flagship carrier and oh how proud they make us all.

On this flight was a man with a desperate thirst for £1.80 worth of bottled water. You can only pay by card these days, ever since airlines realised that without the weight of a bag of pound coins you can fit an extra seat on each wing, so this man handed over his plastic.

“Would you like a receipt?”

“Yes please.”

Your personal finances are your own affair. You earn whatever you can and you stretch it out as far as it’ll go. Nobody wants to tell anyone else how much they get paid because chances are it’s an embarrassing sum for a job a gibbon could do upside-down. You’d likely get a more measured response asking someone if they take it up the arse than how much they have in the bank.

But there can be one reason and one reason alone for this man to ask for a receipt: fiddling expenses.

For anyone not running their own enterprise – pinko bastards, do you have no plucky British entrepreneurial spirit? – here’s how it works: you spend money on something you consider to be a legitimate business expense, you get a receipt, you claim the money back through your company. In effect the company has bought the item and as a result you pay business tax rather than personal tax, at a lower rate.

Obviously that’s the halfwit’s guide. I know some people are forced by employers onto 6.45am trains to the north of England and those are very clearly legitimate expenses because, Christ, the north. But this is £1.80 we’re talking about so I hope you’ll allow me a little creative latitude, because nurses are quitting, trains are banjaxed, roads are car parks, meals-on-wheels is on bricks, the only books left in libraries are in Welsh, schools spit out simpletons, it’s Christmas 365 for burglars and it’s all this bastard’s fault.

Everyone hates tax. For reasons unknown we’re told that our salaries are 20% or 40% higher than they actually are – can you think of a decent reason the pilot of that plane would be told his salary was £62,000 when he would only ever see less than £49k of that? It’s enough to make someone pull a Lubitz.

The more you earn the more tax you pay. No matter how much you hate Her Majesty and her diabolical Revenue & Customs, it’s hard to argue that the better off shouldn’t contribute more. The unfortunate side effect is the more people earn the more they feel they ‘lose’, the meaner they get and the harder they truffle for loopholes. And this is where the fiddle comes in.

It’s incredible the number of people who don’t view this as a tax dodge. Go to the pub of an evening, as happens occasionally, and I’ll see smartly dressed scumbags asking for receipts left and right as though getting plastered and raging about profit and loss forecasts is a good enough excuse to increase primary school class sizes. Sandwiches and crisps, without which Britain would die long before Brexit grinds us to dust, are shuffled swiftly through accounts to save 37p that, arguably, would be better added to the fireman helmets fund at a time when everything everywhere is either in flames or about to be.

I once had a mate hear me say no to a receipt at a bar, stare at me aghast, call the barmaid back and tell her I’d changed my mind before trousering the receipt himself. Everything is fair game. I’m frequently told by someone who should know me by now that I might be able to save a little money on something by ‘putting it through the business’. Somewhere, NHS funds dry up and a baby runs out of medicine, which makes it cry, which wakes up a ward full of old people, just before a referendum. Is that what you want? Is that what you want?

I’m sorry to say in my case the money-grabbing gene skipped a generation. I don’t submit expenses even for things that would probably count as legitimate, such as a steaming Tube to and from whichever Ministry is mug enough to employ me right now. On average I’ll put through two expenses a year – annually for the business insurance and occasionally for a new work laptop, without which my business would be about as successful as the paedo toilet from Better Call Saul.

Under normal circumstances I’d argue that that’s not me blowing my own trumpet, but in this case I’ll proudly tell you I’m huffing it like the house band of the Hôtel Lutetia. I don’t scam the tax man like this because it’s so obvious it fucks over the people I share this island with I can’t imagine how otherwise I’d be able to look the cleaner in the arse as she thrusts her head down another government-contractor-befouled U-bend.

Occasionally I need to consult the local quack; as he palms me off with a pair of pills in each end I can honestly say I’ve never looked at the rhinophymatous beak beneath his bloodshot eyes and thought how proud I am to have contributed to his sleepless nights spent trying to balance the books. I’m even paying my fair share of your children’s education. For the record, I give precisely as much of a fuck about your children as they give about me. But if you raise them to acknowledge a shared responsibility to maintain the national debt, which by then will be the metaphorical size of K2 and have Nigel Farage’s face painted on it, sorry kids, then I can truthfully claim at least I’ve contributed to their well-being just as they’ll be contributing to the electricity that keeps my dribbling carcass on the machines.

You know, how an actual grown-up society should work.

Is a bottle of water a legitimate business expense? It was a Friday afternoon and he was with his girlfriend. Without water you die, sure, though a 90-minute flight to Turin is hardly Ice Cold in Alex. I think I could argue he wanted water rather than needed it. But I guess when he redirects funds away from Cumbernauld and Shipley he must assume he’ll know how to make better use of the money than some pointless government quango like, oh I don’t know, the Civil Aviation Authority. I’ve no problem trusting that an airline that charges £2.00 for a ‘Globetrotting Percy Pig™ (170g)’ will self-police the rigorous checking and testing of their planes. You?

Tax pays for a staggering amount of things people take for granted. In the desperation to squeeze every last drop out of the system for ourselves we forfeit the right to moan about potholes and MRSA and pensioners getting bludgeoned to death in their own homes because the local constabulary had sent its only remaining copper to keep fuming nimbys apart at a protest about fortnightly bin collections.

Think about the alternative. We all pay our fair share, services work a little better and the money takes longer to run out. We develop a system of mutual responsibility which means that, when one of us runs out of money, others find they have a natural inclination to help out. The fear of imminent penury is alleviated. Stress is reduced. We remember it’s a better world when we look after each other.

Yeah fuck that. Amazon don’t pay a penny, why should I? I have a right to this money and I’m taking it. Why should your kids have it and not mine? And similarly awful statements when you really stop to think that everyone’s saying it all the time and you and your kids are no less fucked than anyone else.

Buy a mirror. Look in it. Imagine seeing someone who does the right thing.

Burn the receipt.

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