In amongst other things over the last few weeks was the news that Sir Michael Caine would be breaking his lifelong Labour voting habit and ‘giving the other bloke a go’ at the next election. His main reason, and he did say he hadn’t a clue what the other bloke would do (join the club), was a bit of grumble about tax and spend.
In common with a few quite wealthy folk, he decided that he didn’t want to pay any more tax and it wasn’t being spent properly anyway. He might leave the country in fact. There was a lot of waste in the spending said he. Not a lot of people know this, he said, living up to his own stereotype, but we now pay out more in benefits than we bring in in income tax! Scandalous!
Is it? It could be argued that it’s brilliantly efficient and indicates hardly any waste in our redistributive welfare system. I won’t argue that though. We know what he means, some people claim things they shouldn’t. Which is true. I’m not sure we would reduce the benefits if they didn’t. We might just be able to better care for those who really need it if greedy, lazy, self interested people claiming things they don’t need would just pack it in.
It’s not the majority of people though. We need to remember that. The Tories won’t. They will punish all benefit claimers to get at the guilty. They will cut benefits across the board. They will say it is to starve the bogus claimers into submission but it will hurt the genuinely jobless, the sick, the needy and the vulnerable even more so.
I’m all for stopping the bogus claimants. Benefit fraud costs to the UK Treasury are estimated at between £800 million a year (House of Commons, public accounts committee) and £3 billion (The Conservative party/Daily Telegraph). Sir Michael, like many people, focuses on this as the greatest example of Government waste. It’s looks pretty paltry compared to tax avoidance by the wealthy whingers though. Tax avoidance costs the UK around £25 billion per year (Tax Research UK, [actual quote is ‘not less than £25 billion’]) and for the year 2006-7 tax investigators caught enough reluctant payers to force another £9.17 billion to be paid (HM Customs and Revenue). And you have to think this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Now, as a lifelong leftie, I’m sure Sir Mike has always paid his taxes in full and never tried to dodge any by hiding them overseas, etc. But a lot of his mates, and the people he works with and for, have. Rather than have a pop at the people living on the estates you drive through and occasionally film in, Sir Michael, why not have a bash at them, rather than threaten to do the same because someone is claiming £60 a week jobseeker’s allowance and shouldn’t be? When was the last time you ate a free lunch that cost less than that?
He also complained about tax rates, using the popular ‘soak the rich’ propaganda of the Tories and their media business partners. The truth, again, is that the richest 20% of the populous pays 34.9p in total tax for every pound they earn. The poorest 20% pay 38.7 pence in the pound. That’s over 10% more. (The effects of taxes and benefits on household incomes 2007-8, published by the Office of National Statistics). Si Michae, you aren’t being soaked, and upping your contribution would only bring you in line with the poor.
The fact is, if we want to reduce our financial burden the message should not be ‘soak the rich’ but, in the words of one of my heroes Dennis Skinner, on another Queen’s speech day, ‘Pay your taxes!’ It would be enough.