I was listening, as I usually do, to the radio this morning – as usual it was the BBC 5Live Breakfast Show. Owing to the government’s announcement that they won’t be ordering a Council Tax revaluation, and having had the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, on the show earlier, they were clearly looking for comment from non-government groups. As always, given the subject of tax, the first person on offer was from the TaxPayers Alliance.
For anybody out there who hasn’t heard of this organisation, they are a campaigning and lobbying body which argues for lower taxes. I don’t have a problem with that per se. No, what I have a problem with is that the way they put everything makes it sound as though there is no other position to take, that everyone wishes they paid less tax. Even the name, when associated with their role, makes it sound as they are an alliance of all taxpayers, and that clearly means all taxpayers wish their taxes were lower. Well they’re wrong! Maybe I’m a minority of one on this but I, when I was earning, would happily pay more taxes. In 1997, when I voted for the first time, I deliberately voted for a party that said the standard rate of income tax should go up by 1p in the pound – and when they ditched that policy I came the closest I’ve ever come to walking away from them! I believe strongly enough in taxes that, and I know many people will collapse in horror at my next statement, I generally don’t gift aid things. Why? Because I pay my taxes and trust (foolish I know) the government we elected to use it for things that benefit society as a whole. I don’t want them using our tax money to support charities, I want them to use our tax money to fund government work. To put it another way – I pay my taxes to support the general well-being of society and I give money to charities to support particular causes and needs (I wish I could give more money to even more charities, at the moment I wish I could give any money to any charities, but the sad reality is I can’t). Maybe, just maybe, if the government spent some more taxes on doing what it should be, rather than putting it to one side so it can be used to add to what charities already receive, some of those charities wouldn’t need to exist. (At this point I realise this is starting to sound like a rant against charities. I can promise you it’s not. I know numerous people who work or have worked for a number of charities and they all do amazing, often unrecognised, work with people, communities, animals and habitats in desperate need of help and support. My membership of the Iona Community requires me to give a certain percentage of my income away for good causes and I have always done so willingly, and (when possible) I have done so beyond the required percentage. I believe very strongly in the work of charities, it’s just that my belief in taxes makes me not believe in government giving money to charities.)
So,back to my original point – the TaxPayers Alliance and their apparent assertion that all taxpayers want lower taxes. As mentioned, I don’t. But it’s no use just saying I disagree. In a democracy, in a debate, there needs to be a ‘why’ as well as a ‘what’. So, here’s some of what they say on their website (link above) and my arguments against or reasons why I disagree:
“High taxes damage the British economy and our way of life is suffering as a result” The first thing I have to say is ‘prove it’! High taxes do not necessarily damage economies. According to OECD figures as listed on Wikipedia (not always the most reliable source but the figures are properly referenced so I’ll trust them) the top countries for tax as a percentage of GDP are Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France and Norway, none of whose economies, as far as I am aware, can be said to be in complete dire straits. The reality is that levels of taxation are not the only factor to have an effect on how an economy performs: to suggest otherwise is a gross simplification of a far from simple subject.
“…huge tax bills reduce incentives to work, invest and save and discourage entrepreneurship.” This is only true if we adopt an attitude that says ‘I want to keep all the money I make’, if we view economic success as an individual thing. Or to put it another way – if you look at your pay-packet or other income and the first thing you look at is the amount of tax taken off, and your thoughts are ‘why does the government take so much money off me?’ then yes, there is an incentive not to work as the more you earn the bigger the amount that gets taken in tax. However, when I look at my pay I look at the net pay figure – as long as that is reasonable then that’s fine. When I look at the tax I see how much I’ve given to society. Because I want to give to society and not just myself it then works as a double incentive – the more income the more I’m taking home and the more I’m giving to society in tax. Although, of course, I don’t earn anything at the moment and when I finish in Cambridge I’ll be entering a job where there are, generally, no pay-increases (unless Conference agrees a cost of living increase for all those receiving a stipend).
“The TPA’s mission is:
• To reverse the perception that big government is necessary and irreversible” As someone who has worked on pro-big government campaigns I’m pretty certain that perception is pretty rare already.
“• To explain the benefits of a low tax economy” As previously mentioned, economics is actually pretty complex and a low tax economy may be as harmful in some situations as it is helpful in others.
“To this end, the TaxPayers’ Alliance will:
• Oppose all tax rises” What, all of them? Even if a government can show that raising a particular tax will make a substantial positive change to the life of people in this country? Politics requires compromise and a willingness to accept complexity. Simple, one-line policies never work in the real world.
“• Oppose EU tax harmonisation” This isn’t about tax, this is about the EU. Well, ok, it is about tax, because despite what they say about our taxes being too high they also know our taxes as a percentage of GDP are lower than many European countries – but not Germany. Ah, so they don’t even like the idea of harmonising taxes with Germany, a country that, in some ways, can be seen to prove their point (lower taxes, stronger economy). So maybe it is about the EU after all!
“• Champion opportunities for votes on tax and spending” We get these already, they’re called elections and some people think we have too many of those already. Referenda may work as a way of forming policy in a country the size of Switzerland, but with our population size it would be unworkable. Plus referenda don’t generally offer an opportunity to put forward complex solutions to complex issues.
So, tax, that little word that means something big and bad, despite the fact that actually a workable society needs to share its resources, and tax is therefore a necessity (why else would we suggest that alongside death it is one of life’s certainties?). Sure, we can argue over how much tax is right, we can discuss whether tax is used effectively, but it is not a bad thing per se. Oh, and the next time you hear the TaxPayers Alliance on the radio you can be certain they don’t actually speak for all taxpayers – because they don’t speak for me!