|Focus||Anti-austerity, Tax avoidance|
|Area served||United Kingdom|
UK Uncut is a network of United Kingdom-based protest groups established in October 2010 to protest against tax avoidance in the UK and to raise awareness about cuts to public services. Various sources have described the group as left-wing in its political orientation. However, UK Uncut do not identify themselves as being left or right leaning, but as a movement that offers an alternative to the austerity programme of the governing Coalition.
The idea of UK Uncut originated in October 2010 with a group of ten activists in a north London pub who were having a discussion about the lack of resistance to the public sector cuts. Private Eye had just published an article about Vodafone avoiding tax so they organised a protest against Vodafone on Oxford Street. Protesters met at Piccadilly and successfully closed the Oxford Street Vodafone store.
Tactics and targets
Actions are organised independently by local UK Uncut groups and promoted through the UK Uncut website.
Vodafone was targeted after Private Eye alleged that a deal they made with HM Revenue and Customs substantially reduced the amount of back taxes that they had to pay. Private Eye alleged that Vodafone were originally found liable for £6 billion, but negotiated the amount to be paid down to under £2 billion.
However, the National Audit Office said that the settlement represented reasonable value for the British taxpayer.
Sir Philip Green and the Arcadia Group's shops including Topshop, BHS, and Burton have been targeted as the group is owned by Phillip Green's wife, who lives in Monaco where she is outside the scope of UK income tax.
Fortnum & Mason and their parent company, Wittington Investments were targeted during the 26 March 2011 anti-cuts protests for their tax avoidance policies. This took the form of a mass sit-in. The police arrested and charged 138 protesters with "aggravated trespass". A video obtained by The Guardian backed up protesters' claims that senior police officers tricked them, arresting them after assurances that they were being led to safety. As of 5 July 2011, legal proceedings against five minors were dropped, thirteen were expected to enter plea bargains at City of Westminster magistrates and charges remain against 139 others.
In November 2011, the legal arm of UK Uncut took HM Revenue & Customs to court. HMRC had been accused of failing to provide substantial reasons for not collecting billions of pounds in tax revenue.
It must be noted that HMRC are unable to comment on specific taxpayers' tax affairs. Instead, the National Audit Office (NAO) were asked to review the settlements in question, one being Vodafone, as mentioned above. The NAO found that "the settlements reached by HMRC in these five cases were all reasonable".
Through meetings on Twitter at the end of January it was decided that the next UK Uncut targets would be banks that were alleged to have caused the financial crisis and had been bailed out by the government with billions of pounds. UK Uncut called for people to stage "bail-ins" to turn banks into things that UK Uncut perceived as being threatened by the cuts.
HSBC have also been accused of avoiding £2 billion worth of tax by Private Eye magazine by using a complicated system of channeling profits through the Netherlands,. This has led to them being targeted by UK Uncut.
On 26 February, a day of action was called against the Royal Bank of Scotland and their subsidiary Natwest. The protest was arranged to coincide with the banks' bonus announcements. Once again protestors turned bank branches into services that they considered were threatened by the cuts.
The group has also targeted Atos, an IT company whose healthcare division operates a program for the Department for Work and Pensions to assess workers claiming disability benefits to see if they are "incapable" of work. Critics have felt that its program has lacked integrity and that its real goal is to divert funding from the disabled due to a lowered budget. The group also felt that it was inappropriate for Atos to sponsor the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, a complimentary event to the Olympics for the disabled given how its operation of the program has impacted the lives of many disabled workers through the denial of benefits. UK Uncut held a week of protests dubbed "The Atos Games" during the last week of August to coincide with the start of the Paralympics ending with a joint demonstration with Disabled People Against Cuts on 31 August outside the London headquarters of Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions.
A similar protest group inspired by UK Uncut has formed in the USA under the name US Uncut. The protest also spread to other European countries, creating decentralized protest groups like Portugal Uncut. A group called Take VAT targeted several companies avoiding VAT by selling goods to the UK through the Channel Islands.
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