Jill Segger

The 'tax lock': not a last minute gimmick but a long term moral failure

By Jill Segger
April 30, 2015

“Between May 2015 and May 2020 there will be no increases in income tax rates, no increases in VAT – nor an extension of its scope, no increases in National Insurance – nor an increase in its ceiling”. This is the claim made yesterday (29 April) by David Cameron which he pledges to 'lock' into law during the first 100 days of a Conservative government.

No one will be surprised that Chris Leslie, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last parliament, described this as “a desperate last-minute gimmick from the Tories which nobody will believe a word of. David Cameron broke his promise not to raise VAT last time and, if he gets the chance, he’ll do the same again.”

A recent poll for BBC Radio 4's World at One, found that only nine per cent of respondents believed that manifesto pledges will be carried into effective legislation. An electorate grown weary of electoral sweeteners aree likely to treat this latest confection with scepticism. On a purely pragmatic basis, they will be right to do so. Should circumstances require an increase in tax revenue, the government would simply need to pass another law revoking its lock. Neither does the pledge rule out the options to lower the threshold at which National Insurance is paid, to lower the threshold for VAT registration, to raise the stamp duty or to remove tax relief from pension contributions.

The price paid for such fiscal legerdemain would be no more than temporary political embarrassment – a condition to which the Conservatives in government have shown themselves generally indifferent. The further harm it would do to the already badly damaged level of trust in which politicians are held, is likely to matter less than the perceived advantage gained.

But, most importantly, the ping-pong of claim and counter-claim shows how far the two largest parties in our political culture have moved from a morally mature concept of the role of taxation in an electoral democracy. There has been little or no conversation about the duties, benefits and virtues of progressive taxation during my lifetime. The Right has always presented it as a burden on individuals and a drag on entrepreneurship. Its libertarian fringe has further reinforced the idea of tax as an insult to personal freedom. Legal tax avoidence has become a growth industry as an increasingly consumerist and individualistic society has been eager to embrace a view which the Left has failed to challenge.

If tax justice – and therefore social justice – is to take its rightful place in our polity, that challenge must be made. Equivocation and electoral timidity will not deliver the understanding and support essential to the funding of the essential services of a democracy, nor will it build the mutuality of the social security upon which any one of us may need to call. Misfortune, sickness, injury and unemployment may knock at any door and a political mindset which would have us believe that those who suffer in this way are 'scroungers' is only possible because the more humane truth has been all but excised from popular consciousness.

Taxation provides our schools, hospitals, police and roads. It supports the vulnerable and is a lever for diminishing what is harmful to our common lives and supporting what is beneficial. It makes both governments and powerful corporations accountable. It is an instrument for the redistribution of wealth and influence, and therefore for greater equality.

If politicians will not make this case, they will always oppress all but the very wealthy. What David Cameron set out yesterday will mean further cuts for some of the most vulnerable of our citizens. In the longer term, if unchallenged on moral grounds, it will make us a harder, more cruel, grasping and solipsistic country. Labour must find its backbone – maybe with a little help from the SNP – and dare to refocus both politicians and people on what makes for a good society.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

-----

© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.