Sunday, 26 April 2020

Butterflies and tornadoes


I have always liked the story about the butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and setting off a tornado in Texas. It suggests that tiny actions can produce massive changes.

Anne and I live in a one-bedroom flat. As high-risk I stare out at our neighbours and wonder what life is like for people living in multi-storey flats. A few minutes on the internet gives me the answer.

In Tower Hamlets an outbreak of Covid-19 hit Barnardo Gardens which houses 200 people. “No one feels safe,” said one resident on the fifteenth floor and trying to cope in this situation with two young children, “At least ten people on my landing are ill and there’s no one to help. We feel abandoned.”


Residents have access to just two lifts which are someimes out of use. One wheelchair-bound asthmatic woman says she feels like she’s in prison. "I just sit and look out the window all day. And that's really annoying me because I want to go out."

Have you ever received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs Tax Inspector, written personally to you and containing these words ...  "You must make payment in full by DATE. If you do not, I will start distraint action against you. This means that I will seize your possessions and later arrange to have them sold at public auction. The proceeds from the sale will be set against the debt and the costs of the action."

Not if your name is Richard Branson, Theresa May’s husband, Phillip May, or at the head of five of the UKs biggest companies who pay not one penny in tax.

Of the top 10 countries allowing billions in tax avoidance, four are British overseas territories. Branson’s island Necker in the British Virgin Isles is, of course, one of them.

When challenged Government claims that tackling tax avoidance is a priority for them, but Tax Justice Network found that the UK has “single-handedly” weakened the global corporate tax system which loses an estimated £395 billion per annum to avoidance.

This is more than three times the NHS budget. There would be funds to put an end to the suffering taking place at Barnardo Gardens.

Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network CEOI, has said, “A handful of the richest countries have waged a world tax war so corrosive, they’ve broken down the global corporate tax system beyond repair …. The ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations in order to pay teachers’ wages, build hospitals and ensure a level playing field for local businesses has been deliberately and ruthlessly undermined.”

John McDonnell, ( remember him?) and speaking under the words, ‘For the Many not the Few’, during what was supposed to have been a General Election, said, “The Tories’ record on tax avoidance is embarrassing and shameful … The only way the UK stands out internationally on tax is in leading a race to the bottom in creating tax loopholes … A Labour government will implement the most comprehensive plan ever seen in the UK to tackle tax avoidance and evasion.”


The sun shines, I can hear children’s laughter in the gardens below, and we are grateful to have kind neighbours and a police cadet we have yet to meet, who braves the long supermarket queues to do our weekly shop. He then drops it off here by bicycle. 


We have bought two folding chairs so we can sit outside at the front of the house and another stranger stopped by (two meters distance of course) and offered to add our food order to her delivery.

We are lucky, but my sadness and anger continues at the prolonged fate of those residents at Barnardo Gardens.

Some people are saying they hope things will return to normal once the epidemic is over. I hope not. We have to start living in recognition that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’ We have to behave like Brazilian butterflies and set off social and political tornados.


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