Lib Dems: Our tax plans are fair and progressive

As the person responsible for drafting the Lib Dem manifesto I wanted to respond to the report on our proposal to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000.

Our guest writer is Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. He writes in response to “Think again, Nick” by Tim Horton and Howard Reed

As the person responsible for drafting the Liberal Democrat manifesto I wanted to respond to the report on our proposal to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 – paid for by closing loopholes that unfairly benefit the best off, a new mansion tax, a crack down on tax avoidance and an increase in aviation duties. The report is an interesting contribution but I disagree completely with its conclusions.

Let’s start with some simple facts. Under Labour, the poorest 10% pay 48% of their income in tax while the richest pay just 34%. That is a staggering record of unfairness from a government that claims to put the needs of those at the bottom first. During Labour’s 13 years of failure in office, that gap has widened.

The tax bill for the poorest 10% of families includes £270 in income tax. Our proposal would mean that bill was £0. I think every family we would help would welcome that. The next decile pay £599 in income tax; again that would become £0.

No: you cannot completely fix the unfairness in the tax system by these changes. But the £1bn this will provide to the worst off will make a huge difference to those people, and should not be dismissed. The report suggests it would be better to spend the money released from our tax rises on tax credits. This fails to recognise that tax credits do not benefit the poorest the most either – the second, third and fourth decile all get more than the bottom one.

And, crucially, tax credits increase the poverty trap. When you add up income tax, national insurance and tax credit withdrawal the poorest face a marginal tax rate of 70%. Add in lost council tax benefit, and housing benefit and marginal tax rates can easily reach 92%. For someone earning the minimum wage that would mean an extra hour’s work earns you about 50p – I wonder if the report’s authors would bother working for such a pittance.

If we take away the 20% income tax for those workers, as we will for all those earning less than £10,000, suddenly work becomes much more worthwhile again because you get to keep more of the money you earn. Dealing with poverty isn’t about handouts, it’s about helping people build their own routes to a better life.

Of course, tax credits when they work can make a real difference, which is why we will continue them, unchanged, for the bottom 80% of recipients, phasing them out from the top 20% of claimants. Horton and Reed may not care of course, given these families are not in the bottom decile, but for those who do care about people on middle incomes too, I can assure you that none of those claimants will be worse off because every one will get their £700 tax cut, too.

The report says that it is entirely reasonable to assess this policy in isolation: nonsense. The absurdness of the proposition is proven because the report assesses Labour’s reforms in their entirety not in isolation. Indeed they have on page 27 it compares a graph assessing this single Lib Dem policy against the whole of Labour tax and benefit reform since 1997. This policy is one important part of our overall package for a fairer Britain, and should be considered as such.

Of course you cannot solve poverty, especially extreme poverty, solely through income tax cuts. We never suggested you could. That is why we have a whole manifesto of ideas for improving the lives of people in Britain, including the most disadvantaged.

That includes Council tax, the most unfair tax of all, which takes no consideration of people’s ability to pay with the poorest households paying almost 3 times as much of their income as the richest. It is based on home valuations conducted when John Major was still in power! It rises above inflation and hits those on fixed incomes from benefits and pensions the hardest. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that believes it should be scrapped.

Crucially we are the only party finding more money at this election to tackle deprivation at its source: educational underachievement. We will find an extra £2.5billion to spend in schools, targeted specifically at children on free school meals. The authors of this report make out that £2.5billion is a paltry amount that will make little difference. You try telling that to the teachers struggling with overcrowded classrooms or the parents desperate to get their kids the extra one-to-one tuition they need.

An average primary school could cut classes from 28 to 20. An average secondary school could run catch-up classes for 160 pupils, making sure no child gets left behind. That is a progressive policy that will do more to tackle poverty in the long term than any number of bureaucratic handouts from Labour.

Everyday I hear from constituents in the Highlands distraught and disbelieving at the tax system they face. Bankers and Conservative Party deputy chairmen get away with dodging their taxes while the poorest pay the highest percentage of their income in tax. We want to see a tax system that is fairer and simpler.

I am not going to apologise for being the only party proposing to provide an extra £1bn for those at the very bottom. I am not going to apologise for thinking it’s important for families on low and middle incomes, as well as the most deprived, to be able to make ends meet and put a little aside for the future. Our tax plans would be the most radical tax reform in a generation, and it is only cowardice from Labour that prevents them following us down this progressive and radical road to a fairer tax system.

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20 Responses to “Lib Dems: Our tax plans are fair and progressive”

  1. Will Straw

    Danny Alexander MP defends Lib Dem tax policy (via @leftfootfwd) @DuncanStott @AlixMortimer @soclibforum @libdemvoice

  2. Daniel Aston

    RT @wdjstraw: Danny Alexander MP defends Lib Dem tax policy (via @leftfootfwd) @DuncanStott @AlixMortimer @soclibforum @libdemvoice

  3. Kelly-Marie Blundell

    RT @wdjstraw: Danny Alexander MP defends Lib Dem tax policy (via @leftfootfwd) @DuncanStott @AlixMortimer @soclibforum @libdemvoice

  4. James Holt

    RT @wdjstraw: Danny Alexander MP defends Lib Dem tax policy (via @leftfootfwd) @DuncanStott @AlixMortimer @soclibforum @libdemvoice

  5. topsy_top20k_en

    Lib Dem manifesto author: Our tax plans are fair and progressive: – response to our report:

  6. Alex Wilcock

    You want details, not soundbites? RT @MarkReckons Lib Dems: Our tax plans are fair and progressive #askthechancellors

  7. Jae Kay

    RT @alexwilcock: You want details, not soundbites? RT @MarkReckons Lib Dems: Our tax plans are fair and progressive

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    Lib Dems: Our tax plans are fair and progressive | Left Foot Forward: As the person responsible for draf… – Freedom!

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  10. Mr. Sensible

    Not sure what to make of this; aviation duties ETC are a good idea, but I would challenge the Lib Dems on their comments about fairness as they want to get rid of child trust funds, from what I gather.

  11. Ron Williams

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  13. Will Straw

    Will Straw

    Dear Danny,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. A few key points in response:

    1. The stat about the bottom 10% paying 48% of gross income in tax is spot on (and covered in Graph 5 in the Horton/Reed paper). But three-quarters of this is from indirect taxes so highlighting it is a good argument for cutting VAT, not for the Lib Dem policy.

    2. The saving from the Lib Dem policy for the bottom 10% may include an average of £270 but this hides a range which starts at zero. You cannot escape the fact that many people in the bottom decile will get nothing at all from this policy.

    3. Targetting £1bn at the poorest in society is a noble policy but doing it through an overall policy that costs £17bn in tough times is expensive and untargeted.

    4. It is completely reasonable to assess policies in isolation. If Labour said it would copy all the Lib Dems tax raising policies (mansion tax, CGT rise, etc) and spend it on a £700 computer for everyone earning over £10,000, some fraction of a computer for people earning £7k to £10k, and nothing for people earning under £7k, there would be an outcry. This policy works in exactly the same way and can be challenged on its merits.

    All the best,


  14. John77

    If you persistently ignore evidence-based corrections to the errors that your cohorts publish in an allegedly “evidence-based” blog, you must expect that occasionally commentators will get so irritated that they comment adversely upon your ability to understand simple English and simple arithmetic.
    Firstly, 48% is not “spot on” under any definition – however much you choose to distort reality by including payments out of savings in the numerator, the number still does NOT come to 48%. May I suggest that you read the ONS data?
    Secondly, nearly three-quarters of “direct tax” paid by the bottom decile is Council Tax which is means-tested – no-one is paying that out of income, it is all paid out savings by those not entitled to income-based Job seekers Allowance or Pension tax Credit or whatever. Included in the indirect taxes is stamp duty on relative expensive houses, air passenger duty and insurance premium tax, and more than one-third of “intermediate taxes” is made up of *employer’s* national insurance contributions.
    Thirdly VAT makes up less than 30% of the tax paid by the bottom decile according to ONS
    Fourthly, you are being economical with the truth by saying the LibDem policy is untargeted – the benefit is aimed at low earners at the expense of the rich and (you may remember this from freshman economics) a flat benefit to all basic rate taxpayers has more value to those at the lower end of the income spectrum covered than those at the top end
    Fifthly if I go through all you errors everyone else will get bored

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