This week, an investigation by The Times uncovered that comedian Jimmy Carr had been sheltering £3.3m per year from the tax man by using the controversial offshore K2 scheme. Instead of paying 50% of his earnings over £150,000, Carr has been paying just 1% through a tax avoidance system that is, worryingly, entirely legal. Much debate has ensued over whether it is the fault of the government for allowing such loopholes to exist, or Carr’s for having the audacity to pocket the overwhelming majority of his millions. One thing that is for sure, though, is that while his reputation has been mildly tarnished, the entire debacle has largely served to boost Carr’s profile and give him more funny fodder for his stand-up shows.
Like many others, I watched Friday night’s 8 Out of 10 Cats purely to see how Carr would react to the inevitable jibes launched at him. Having apologised on Twitter for his ‘terrible error of judgement’ and promising to ‘conduct [his] financial affairs much more responsibly’, many seemed satisfied that he’d done wrong, been found out and pledged to stop being a naughty, tax dodging boy. But while the apology seemed reasonable enough, I was less convinced by the assumed air of self-deprecation he displayed on the show. I understand, of course, that he has been backed into such a corner that whatever his next move was, it would seem inauthentic, but his regular appeals of ‘yeah it’s all my fault, guys, I’m a terrible person’ did little to convince me he was actually sorry. Sorry his cover-up has been exposed, certainly, but actually sorry for what he’s done? I’m not so sure.
The thing is, the papers are regularly littered with tales of benefit cheats scrounging an extra £50 per week from the government purely because they are too lazy to get jobs. But my vehement disapproval of anyone who tries to squeeze the system for more than they are owed is far outweighed by my feelings towards the behaviour of those select few millionaires who deem themselves exempt from the taxation system. The amount that benefit scroungers accrue is so pitifully minimal in comparison to the likes of what Carr and his tax dodging cronies get away with that the finger pointing hand of the media seems, with the exception of this incident, to be exposing the wrong people entirely.
When asked why he got involved with the Jersey based K2 scheme in the first place, Carr replied that he ‘never really thought about it.’ Now this is something I find a little hard to believe. Ignoring the fact that Carr is a Cambridge educated man, the fact any forty year old with a shred of common sense would enter into something so patently immoral and unjust without thinking the consequences through seems wildly unlikely. Add to this that Carr is one of the country’s most famous comedians, and being found out would undoubtedly cause a mini scandal, and the whole thing becomes even more implausible. Maybe he really did get involve with K2 without a second thought. Or maybe he’s a dirty liar. I guess we’ll have to wait for his next autobiography to find out.
Indeed, the most galling part of the situation has to be that Carr is set to make even more money from his money making scheme by making jokes about his money making scheme. Realising this, a remorseful (or even socially savvy) person might offer to donate a large proportion of the money he has sheltered to charity, but the comedian has thus far abstained from doing so, reaffirming my opinion that any upset he feels will be the result of being found out, not of the immorality of his actions. While I agree that such loopholes should not exist at all, the fact people actively decide to exploit these corrupt opportunities not only makes a mockery of Cameron’s elusive Big Society but shows a rather unpleasant side to the people we revere at the highest level of the social order – celebrities. It seems to me that entering the K2 scheme is kind of like stealing that bag of sweets from Woolworths as a child: we all knew we could probably do it without getting caught, but decided against it because it was just plain wrong. For Carr, however, that £3.3m bag of sweets clearly proved just too tempting.