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Closing gap between haves and have-nots is companies' business - poll

Posted by Melanie Kramers Senior Press Officer

2nd Oct 2016

The British public overwhelmingly believes business has a responsibility to act to reduce inequality and put an end to corporate tax dodging, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Oxfam and published as Conservative Party conference begins today.

The poll suggests strong public support for concrete action to deliver on the Prime Minister's promise to tackle corporate bad practice in order to create an "economy that works for everyone."

When asked to say how much responsibility companies had to act in a range of areas, 90 percent of people said businesses had a 'great deal' or 'fair amount' of responsibility to improve working conditions. Paying their fair share of tax in all countries where they operate (88%) and avoiding using offshore havens to artificially reduce their tax bills (84%) both came significantly ahead of maximising profits for shareholders (66%), which is often assumed to be companies' primary responsibility. 

The survey also showed that two-thirds of British voters (64%) said they would back laws to stop the highest-paid in a company earning more than 20 times that of its average worker. 

The ratio of FTSE 100 leaders' pay to average workers has jumped significantly since the end of the millennium, with the gap increasing from 47 times in 1998 to 139 times by 2011, according to data compiled by Manifest. 

Oxfam is urging the Prime Minister to use her speech to Conservative Party Conference to set out how she will reduce poverty and encourage more responsible corporate behaviour.  

Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring said: "It is clear that there is huge public support for action to ensure businesses take responsibility for closing the gap between the haves and have nots.

"Theresa May has rightly raised expectations that business can and should play a role in tackling the inequality which is dividing Britain and hurting the poorest most. Fairer pay structures and a crackdown on tax dodging would be good places to start."

Oxfam research this month found that that the richest one percent of the UK population now owns more than 20 times more wealth than the poorest 20 percent. The Office for National Statistics reports that 13 million people in the UK are living in poverty.  In over half of low-income households at least one adult is working, but low wages, insecure contracts and the rising cost of living mean that a job is no guarantee of escaping poverty.

In the wake of recent scandals involving multinationals dodging their tax bills, the poll showed the majority of people (81%) supported government proposals to fine banks and accountants who facilitate tax avoidance but (77%) thought the government was not doing enough to stop tax dodging. 

In particular, more than two-thirds (67%) of people said the Government has a responsibility to make the UK's Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies - including Caribbean tax havens - become more transparent. More than half of shell companies set up by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers scandal, were registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Goldring added: "As long as big businesses are able to get away without paying their taxes people in poor countries and the less well-off in the UK will continue to pay the price. The missing billions could pay for teachers, medicines and safety nets for the poorest. The UK, the world's sixth-largest economy, must play its part in tightening global tax rules to make them fairer and more transparent, starting with UK-linked tax havens like the Caymans."  

Developing countries lose more than £130 billion ($170 billion) a year to tax dodging. The money that rich Africans hold in tax havens, for example, is estimated to cost African countries $14 billion a year in lost revenues, enough money to save the lives of four million children and get every African child into school.

ENDS

For more information please contact Melanie Kramers, mkramers1@oxfam.org.uk, 07825 088894

Notes to editors


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,545 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25 and 26 September 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).The poll showed that greater corporate responsibility received more staunch backing from those questioned: more than two-thirds (68%) said companies had a 'great deal' of responsibility to pay their fair share of tax, compared to just 20 per cent who thought the same about maximising profits for shareholders. 

Oxfam, ActionAid, Christian Aid and The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales are hosting an informal drinks reception at Conservative Party Conference on Sunday 2 October from 9:30pm to discuss what tax responsibility looks like in post-Brexit Britain - and what impact decisions made in the UK might have around the globe. Speakers include SABMiller and YouGov.

Blog post written by Melanie Kramers

Senior Press Officer

More by Melanie Kramers