As politicians and some in the media work the country into a frenzy against tax dodgers, please spare a thought for all those politicians and commentators arguing for more tax breaks to promote good works, more gr0wth and healthy lifestyles. One man’s tax dodger is another man’s prudent individual taking advantage of strongly recommended tax breaks which have been carefully honed by government.
Some people pay less tax because they give generously to charity, some because they are making accelerated savings for retirement so they will not depend on benefits and taxpayers in their old age, some because they are investing in places and causes approved by politicians, some because they are lending their money to the government to spend on public services. Most people take action to avoid tax. If you have to drive into central London, if you do so before 7 am you avoid the Congestion Charge. I do not have a tv in my London flat in order to avoid having to pay a second BBC licence fee. If you do not smoke or drink spirits you avoid large amounts of tax on alcohol and tobacco. If you do not move home in recent years, you avoided the large Stamp duties now imposed. Tax is taxing. Tax has a direct and visible impact on what you can and cannot do. Tax is often designed to stop you doing things. In other words many taxes are designed to encourage you to avoid them.
The UK’s problem is not that we pay too little tax. It is that the country produces too little for its ambitious plans for public spending. We need to produce more to make our current level of spending affordable. The problem is our current level of tax gets in the way of growing the economy faster. As a country moves to taxing too much, as the UK is doing, so governments have to find more and more ways of getting more and more money out of the same people and companies . There is always the danger that more tax will put people off earning so much, or drive them to live or work in another country.
In the UK the motorist is one of the favoured groups to pillory. Many politicians make motorists out to be some kind of special group of planet wreckers and anti social people to start with. Out of taxed income a motorist now has to pay tax to buy a car, tax to keep the car on the road, special taxes to drive in London or over certain bridges in the national network, tax on the fuel in the vehicle, and car park charges in state owned car parks and to park on the state provided highway which he or she has already paid for.
If the government wants to stop people avoiding tax there is an easy answer. They should legislate for simple flat taxes, and abolish all allowances and tax breaks. Out should go the exemptions for charity, for pensions saving, for prime residences, for certain kinds of investment, for National Savings and all the rest. In should come lower tax rates that apply to us all however we choose to spend our money.
I doubt the government would want to do this, as each tax break is defended by armies of supporters and media commentators. In which case, isn’t there a danger in all these witch hunts against people who are just good at using the large number of legal loopholes and taxbreaks to pay less tax?