The Lib Dem conference offered some excellent ideas yesterday. The best was to raise the income tax threshold to £12,500; this will make employment more profitable than benefits; it will go a long way towards enriching the poorest; it will be a significant removal of government from the lives of millions of people.
Then in his next sentence Danny Alexander said that if we are all in this together then those with the broadest shoulders ought to bear the greatest burden. But we are 95th in the World Economic Forum’s low tax rankings; down from 4th in 1997. We already pay a lot of tax: the Lib Dems are looking for rhetoric that avoids Wilson’s mantra – tax the rich until the pips squeak – but that is increasingly what it looks like they want to do.
In a recent article, Allister Heath outlines some vital facts for this discussion:
A huge share of the tax take and hence of the money used to fund the NHS, schools and welfare is accounted for by a tiny minority on high incomes. The top one per cent of taxpayers (roughly speaking, those on £150k and above) will pay a record 27.7 per cent of the total income tax take in 2011-12, according to HMRC (they earned 12.6 per cent of total income, down from 13.4 per cent five years ago). This has increased from 26.6 per cent the previous year, 21.3 per cent in 1999-2000, 14 per cent in 1986-87 and 11 per cent in 1981-2. History tells us that cuts to the top rate actually increase the share of tax paid for by the rich; there was no need for Gordon Brown’s raid.
The rich already bear the greatest burden. And it isn’t just those people labouring for the £150,000 a year. The very rich make the biggest contribution:
The 14,000 people on £1m a year or more will pay £14.2bn in income tax this year. They will contribute almost as much to the exchequer as the total paid by the 13.93m people earning up to £20,000 a year, who will fork out £14.9bn. Those on £1m or more now pay 45.5 per cent of their income in income tax, up from 35.7 per cent in 2008-09.
Howe cut the top rate from 80% to 60%; Regan from 70% to 28%. These were successful policies. We are already taxing the rich too much.
More sinister than this was Alexander’s plan to catch tax avoiders. There are 2,500 extra jobs in HMRC; he is promising to collect £7 billion more in tax this year. All that money could be used productively, but instead it is going to be stolen to keep Lib Dem delegates clapping. This new team is going to focus on the top 40,000 taxpayers and, in his own words, the government are going to find them and their money. But look up at the figures from Alister Heath: 14,000 rich people already give as much as 14,000,000 not rich people. Disincentivising those 14,000 could cost the 14,000,000 dear.