How high taxes killed our belief in helping others

Posted on January 1, 2013

When all factual and economic arguments have failed, Britain’s proponents of high taxes fall back upon philosophical justifications for their position. “Tax is the thing that makes us civilised”, they declare, “It brings us together as a society”.

Such arguments are dragged out to perform again and again, like those 1960s pop acts who were fleeced of their retirement pots by unscrupulous managers. Of course, there’s no actual evidence for them – that’s the point, they are declarations of conveniently unmeasurable truths.

But even such intangible claims are starting to look shaky. As the debate about cutting benefits for the better off intensifies, it is increasingly clear that high taxation has killed our national sense of helping others, of the well to do making sacrifices to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Just look at the row over Child Benefit. There was a time when people recognised that if they earned a good salary, they didn’t really need welfare to top up their income – whereas others who were barely getting by did.

Now, the letters pages and radio phone ins communicate a very different world view. Those who have been squeezed over and over again by successive Chancellors grabbing at their earnings, their savings, their pensions, their petrol bills and their pasties want something back in return. The idea that just because they might be earning £50,000 a year then they shouldn’t get Child Benefit enrages large numbers of people – the payment is one of the few things they get back from the large amounts they have to pay to the Exchequer.

That is a remarkable shift from the widespread sense of “middle class oblige” that once existed to the far less attractive sight of well-heeled parents defending their right to be welfare recipients.

But people who want to hang onto their payments cannot be blamed for feeling that way. It’s a natural reaction to want to get at least a bit back when you are shelling out a small fortune every year through constant, multiple taxation. It is our politicians, and particularly the high tax lobby, who are responsible for the near-total erosion of that sense of sacrifice for the greater good.

Of course it is an absurdity to pay welfare benefits to the well-off. It is a perverse interpretation of a welfare state that was intended as a safety net – particularly at a time when there are plenty of families who can only dream of earning £50,000 a year. Worse, it means cycling cash through a wasteful tax collection and benefits payment system, only to return some of it to the pocket where it originated.

The welfare bill must be brought down, and the just way to do that is to withdraw benefits from those who need them least. High taxation has driven out the sense of responsibility which would once have made that the obvious and natural thing to do for most Britons. Far from making us “civilised” or “bringing us together”, overfeeding the tax man has made us selfish. Taking more and more money from workers has made them grip what they have left all the tighter.

The moral case against high taxes must be made or – counter-intuitive as it may seem – the moral case for helping others will continue to fall on deaf ears.

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Categories: Culture, Economics, Opinion, Politics, Westminster

4 Responses

  1. Paul Perrin (@pperrin):

    Once private charitable giving has been nationalised – it is a matter for government now, not private people/organisations.

    And like many things, once destroyed it will not easily return.

    Past generations were taught, virtually from birth, that charitable giving was a good thing to do – so when adult they did so. But even charity were denationalised now, it will take generations for that spirit to return.

    08.01.2013 14:13 Reply

  2. thefilthyengineer:

    The only money I have got back from the state in the last 20 years is the winter fuel payment. It feels good to be getting something back after all those years of just paying taxes for a number of services I have rarely used. NHS for one.

    08.01.2013 15:10 Reply

  3. antony blakey:

    The situation on tax is far worse than it appears. There are 24 million workers in the private sector who pay ALL the tax. Many of those pay very little tax so there are actually around 15 million people paying the majority of the £550 billion raised. Public sector workers do not pay tax but merely recirculate tax as their salaries and pensions came from local or national tax takes. What is surprising is that none of the 15 million Government benefactors have said we have had enough of watching the public sector spend badly and waste continuously (everything from the rail franchise disaster to billions wasted on quangos, welfare or IT). There are state employees who actually deliver a service but maybe they should distance themselves from the estimated 1.2 million managers, administrators, pseudo-enforcers, wardens and hangers-on who deliver nothing. Remember these people cannot be sacked however useless they are, they earn more than the people who pay them and have higher pensions.
    Tax is acceptable if it is open and honest but the current system has us believe that we pay much less than we actually do.
    Maybe no-one wants to talk about 15 million people paying for just about everything in case they start objecting to the way their money is spent

    08.01.2013 15:48 Reply

  4. Nick:

    Just wait until people find out the true state of government fianances.

    In summary, the estimates in the new supplementary table indicate a total Government pension
    obligation, at the end of December 2010, of £5.01 trillion, or 342 per cent of GDP, of which around
    £4.7 trillion relates to unfunded obligations.

    That’s from ONS.

    Yep, on top of the 1,100 bn debt, is at least another 5,010 bn. Rising at above inflation, this figure is now at least 5,250 bn.

    Ho hum, on taxes of 550 bn and people as you say are protesting at paying all the tax and getting nothing back, think what happens when they discover their pension has been looted.

    What you fail to say, is this.

    Taxes are the price of government services. What the Greek government has discovered is that people won’t pay tax, if they get nothing back.

    Politicians as usual have that arse about face.

    08.01.2013 16:12 Reply

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