POLITICS
26/01/2018 11:52 GMT | Updated 26/01/2018 13:16 GMT

John McDonnell At Davos Hints Labour Could Back A Universal Basic Income

Shadow Chancellor told the super-rich: 'Pay your taxes.'

John McDonnell has dropped the strongest hint yet that Labour could support a universal basic income for every British citizen. 

The Shadow Chancellor has been speaking to the global elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos and said the party was examining whether the policy is workable. 

He said he was “deeply interested” in the concept before warning those at the top have a “moral duty” to pay their taxes. 

McDonnell went on to say that accountants should swear an oath promising not to aid tax dodgers. 

A UBI is being trialled in some parts of Scotland and has been backed by millionaire Elon Musk as a means of crushing economic injustice in the age of insecure work and zero hours contracts.

“We’re considering it, we’ve got a working group,” McDonnell said. “And that will bring forward reports for consultation.

“We’re encouraging wherever possible experiments as well as pilots. We’ll be learning from the pilots that have already.

He added: “Having a basic income would give people security, but also even in transitional phases in their life, would give them security as well.

“So I think it is worth examining.”

He warned power-holders and business leaders that millions of people are buckling under the strain of austerity as they gathered at the Swiss resort. 

Denis Balibouse / Reuters

“I say to the corporations and the super rich: pay your taxes,” McDonnell said.

“I think there’s a moral duty on those who earn more and on corporations to reject tax avoidance.

“Tell their auditors and accountants. Maximise our tax, not minimise them.”

He said the “rigged system” which allows a privileged few at the Swiss ski resort to “sit in splendour” can be changed.

“The status quo allows a powerful few here in Davos to sit in splendour whilst the great many lose out,” he said. .

“But the status quo is not inevitable. It is the product of a rigged system, and systems can be changed.

“The alternative is a refusal to act that will allow the increasing inequality and injustice that affects the many in our world to continue, to benefit a few among the Davos elite.”

Accountants should have an equivalent of the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors, he said.

“We and the public are tired of seeing increasingly complex schemes being cooked up by accountancy firms with a direct interest in obscuring and hiding the earnings of their clients,” he will say.

“I am suggesting that there should be a global Hippocratic oath that commits accountants to ensuring that the companies and individuals who use them eschew the use of tax avoidance and evasion schemes.”

Jeremy Corbyn’s trusted ally proposed raising some taxes on financial transactions, which has growing support in the world.

“We [Labour] will introduce a Robin Hood tax and we will use it to fund public services and maintain our commitment to developing countries as well,” he said. “I think in that way there might be a potential for changing the attitude of millions of and billions of people who think they’ve not been treated fairly by the system.”

McDonnell was quizzed on the socialist country Venezuela, where food shortages and an economic crisis have prompted unrest. 

The Shadow Chancellor said the country “took a wrong turn” but added its social policies “would have been successful if they had actually mobilised the oil resources to invest in the long-term”. 

He said: “They should have learned the lessons of the UK, we squandered our oil resources as well, we allowed private profit to take the benefits of that.”

Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted ministers had taken action to tackle tax dodgers.

“Since 2010 we have raised an extra £160 billion in taxes for public services by tackling tax evasion and avoidance,” he said.

“If John McDonnell was serious, he would back the anti-avoidance measures we are taking in the Budget that will raise an extra £4.8 billion, instead of opposing them as Labour have done so far.

“Labour admit they are ‘high risk’ for our economy and just like last time working people would pay the price with more debt, higher taxes and fewer jobs.”