Mark Twain famously said that the only two things for certain in life were death and taxes – but why is taxation so central to our society?
In a capitalist economic system, private companies are driven by the profit motive, which means they are not interested in providing free services such as healthcare, education and transport infrastructure.
Without taxation to ensure state provision of these vital services, those who can’t afford to pay the market rates set by private companies would be forced to go without.
This would mean that, as a country, we would fail to meet our obligations to provide basic human rights and needs such as shelter, healthcare and education.
I don’t wish to teach readers to suck eggs. You know why we have taxation. But why is it at the rate it is? And why are we all feeling the squeeze now?
When polled, most people say they are happy to pay extra in taxes if it means improvements to our NHS.
But since so much of our taxes get swallowed up in government waste (billions in dodgy PPE contracts), corruption (Number 10 refurbishments and parties) and tax cuts for the wealthiest, it is little wonder that many of us are livid about the recent increases to national insurance and council tax.
If we could be sure that the tax we pay is well spent on improving public services, delivering better healthcare and education, improving economic productivity and helping us become carbon neutral, delivering energy efficiency and genuinely affordable housing – then we’d all be happy to pay up.
Crucially, if we knew the tax system was fair and progressive, then most of us would be even happier. But under this Government, none of those things are true.
The super wealthy in our country either pay no tax whatsoever or proportionally less than the rest of us do. Independent businesses have to pay local rates while international chains like Starbucks duck corporation tax. And our public services are plunging further into disrepair, with poverty on the rise.
The boss of BP has recently described the energy price crisis as a cash machine for his company – unfortunately, it’s families across the country providing that cash.
Labour has demanded a windfall tax on the recent bumper multibillion-pound profits made by oil and gas companies to tackle the cost of living crisis. Shamefully but inevitably, Boris Johnson ruled this out.
Perhaps we need a total rethink of the way our economy works. Perhaps “universal basic income” would revolutionise the social security system. Perhaps a four-day working week would transform productivity. Perhaps a “green new deal” would overhaul the energy crisis.
But with the cost-of-living crisis biting, and taxes for the most vulnerable rising, let’s start by changing the taxation system.
Bring in a wealth tax and abolish regressive taxes like VAT that hit the poorest hardest. Make our tax system genuinely progressive, and transparent, and we may all trust in it once again.
Because as things currently stand, the Sheriff of Nottingham is bleeding us all dry – and since there’s no Robin Hood around to even the odds, let’s all work together to oust the Sheriff and change the tax system for good.
Councillor John Allcock is the joint Labour opposition leader on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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