Sans Duty

Sans Duty: Making Tax Visible

The Sans Duty project uses a design fiction approach to interrogate the complex relationship between tax and local communities, exploring with community members the ethical and practical issues in implementing a grassroots, community-led, digital, transparent system around the payment of tax. The Sans Duty project works with communities to explore how they can use digital technologies to build local economic resilience through the tax system.

Tax is a significant social and economic issue in the UK and internationally. The payment of tax is currently seen as economic, private, hidden and opaque. One consequence is that through, for example, business norms that deny the moral imperative to pay tax and processes of economic de-regulation and liberalisation businesses can operate in the UK but avoid paying tax by ‘offshoring’ profits (Urry 2014). The tax gap, describes the amount of tax owed but not paid in the UK, is estimated to be between £35bn and £125bn (Tax Research UK 2012). The dynamics and consequences are complex but manifest in local areas such as Brixton, where this project is based, in terms of the unfair commercial advantage to companies that do not pay national corporate tax contributing to the death of the ‘independent’ high street through an increase of chain stores and franchises (Potts et al 2005), and the rise of Internet ‘delivery’ services such as Amazon (Urry 2014). In addition, reducing the funds available for public services (Murphy 2008).

There is an historical but revitalised movement for local, grassroots practical experimentation in alternative forms of community social and economic exchange systems (Scott 2013), such as time banks (2004) and complementary currencies (Ward and Lewis 2002). The Brixton Pound (B£) is a complementary currency that the community creates, exchanges and honours in both note and digital forms. B£ is philosophically and practically committed to using a local currency to keep the benefits of the economy local, where Pounds Sterling are used however the issue is that this money, these profits, can be lost from the national purse through tax avoidance. As of yet there are no grassroots, community-wide approaches to encouraging the payment of tax. There are activist groups (e.g., UK Uncut), business schemes (e.g., Fair Trade Tax Mark) and research on making tax payments public (Schwartz 2009) but no one has explored an approach that is scalable, systemic and integrated into the consumer and community experience to make a business’s payment of tax visible to build a culture around paying tax as a social good.

The Sans Duty project’s response to this complex issue is cross-disciplinary and innovative. Ranciere’s (2010) concept of the sans papiers illuminates those who are ‘present but not part’ of a community, such as undocumented workers. The concepts of the police and the distribution of the sensible explain how the politico-aesthetic field of a community divide those who belong to a community, can benefit from political rights or not, are literally seen and heard or not (Rockhill 2010). Following on from this, Ranciere argues that democratic emancipation is possible by making the invisible and inaudible, seen and heard in conditions of equality. We invert the focus of sans papiers from undocumented workers to the businesses that are present in the UK but not part of the community in that they do not pay national corporate tax. We label these businesses the sans duty. We seek to explore how communities can utilise digital technologies to initiate bottom-up processes to redistribute the sensible by re-configuring the politico-aesthetic field of the community in relation to the payment of tax, more simply making the payment of tax a visible social good.

(Duggan, Case for Support)




Key Participants

Dr James Duggan (PI), an early career researcher with an interdisciplinary background in psychology, global politics, and education. He has wide ranging interests including managerialism and neoliberalism in education and the public sector, ‘smart’ cities, and technology and play in learning spaces. He has a track record of developing practical knowledge exchange activities (e.g., the Collaborative Action Research Platform, and the Museum of Qualitative Data). He conceived and developed thnku an online platform for users to thank one another to create a research and community-focused tool that would enable but also make visible relationships of community gratitude and the contextual and granular community resources they were founded upon and created. James is writing a design fiction article for a scheduled Ephemera special issue and is working on a design fiction and education project called the Near Future School.

Joseph Lindley is currently conducting research for his PhD, which is funded by the UK Digital Economy Programme, and hosted at the HighWire Centre for Doctoral Training at Lancaster University. He has skills and experience as a technologist, artist, musician, and photographer. His PhD research focuses on developing formal understanding of design fiction’s methods and principles, so it can easily be operationalised in appropriate contexts. This PhD work adopts a ‘research through design’ approach, so involves researching design fiction through the act of making design fictions.

Tom Shakhli is Brixton Pound’s Engagement Manager. His main task is to grow the B£ and find new ways for the organization to have an impact in Brixton.

Toby Blume is currently Implementation Lead of Lambeth Coop Council, a Built Environment Expert at the Design Council, and the founder of a free school. He has wide-ranging experience in the areas of community engagement and participation, change management and poverty alleviation. He was the former Chief Executive of Urban Forum and an advisor to open data group Data Unity as well as the Better Banking Coalition.

Keri Facer is Professor of Educational and Social Futures at the University of Bristol. She works on rethinking the relationship between formal educational institutions and wider society and is particularly concerned with the sorts of knowledge that may be needed to address contemporary environmental, economic, social and technological changes. Previously Research Director at Futurelab and leader of the UK Government’s Beyond Current Horizons project, she is currently Leadership Fellow for the RCUK Connected Communities Programme.

Anab Jain is Founder and Director of Superflux and an award winning multidisciplinary designer, and strategist working on projects for businesses, think-tanks and research organisations such as Sony, BBC, Nokia, NHS, Design Council, Forum for the Future, Qatar Foundation and Govt. of UAE. She produces cutting-edge design fiction works around futurescaping, emerging markets, new technologies and innovation. She was honoured as a Ted Fellow. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA New York, Apple Computers Inc, Mattel Toys, Tate Modern, Science Gallery Dublin, National Museum of China and the London Design Festival.

Brett Scott is a campaigner, former derivatives broker, and the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (Pluto Press) published in 2013. He is interested in economic systems, experiments with new forms of financial activism, and is involved in the social and environmental finance community in London. He is a Fellow at the WWF/ICAEW Finance Innovation Lab and has recently been appointed to the board of Brixton Pound.