Thursday, 26 April 2012

Redistributing ... to the rich

Andrew Fisher, LEAP co-ordinator looks beyond the fluff to discover the real issues in the Budget. (This article first appears in the May 2012 edition of Labour Briefing)

Pasty tax, charity tax, granny tax and even caravan tax – if you live too much of your life on planet Twitter then you’d be forgiven for thinking these were the main issues in the Budget.

I admit, as someone who doesn’t tan I was initially perturbed about #pastytax until I realised it referred to Cornish pastries rather than a lack of cutaneous pigmentation.

But the real stories of the Budget – involving the big billions – were about the more commonly known income and corporation taxes. Osborne gave corporate Britain another cash giveaway: taking corporation tax down from 26% to 24%, and committing in his statement to reduce it further to 22%, with the aspiration of reducing corporation tax even further.

"So that by 2014, Britain will have a 22% rate of corporation tax ... And a rate that puts our country within sight of a 20% rate of business tax that would align basic rate income tax, the small companies rate and the corporation tax rate."

This largesse to big business will cost the Exchequer an extra £3.76bn in the period covered by the spending review. This is on top of the £25bn in tax breaks for business announced in 2010 which included Osborne's commitment to cut corporation tax from 28% to 24% over four years.

Now Osborne will cut taxes for big business to 22% over the same period. It is not as if the previous government had been loading the tax burden on business either. Under the New Labour, corporation tax fell from 33% to 28% – which LEAP estimated cost the exchequer £50bn over 13 years.

So how does Osborne's new corporation tax rate compare with other countries? He was kind enough to tell us in the Budget:

"A headline rate that is not just lower than our competitors, but dramatically lower. 18% lower than the US. 16% lower than Japan. 12% below France and 8% below Germany. An advertisement for investment and jobs in Britain."

 So more like ... Ireland? And by coincidence that is a country that Osborne deeply admires. It was Osborne who said in 2006, "Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking". The problem isn’t that Osborne said that in 2006, but that he still believes it now!

Ireland has been through an even more adverse austerity shock doctrine than Britain, and has slipped back into recession this year. Slashing corporation tax simply undercuts the tax base and hinders recovery.

But it does something else – it redistributes wealth. Lower corporation tax means larger net profits, so instead these larger profits go to large shareholders in dividends and directors in bonuses.

Those same directors will be laughing all the way home from their banks thanks to Osborne slashing the top rate of tax from 50 to 45 per cent. That will cost £3bn per year, which will stay in the pockets of the richest 1% in the country.

This was the issue that Ed Miliband led on when he rose in the House of Commons to challenge the Chancellor’s Budget. It was an uncharacteristically forceful performance, coruscating Osborne for cutting taxes for his Cabinet mates and their chums, while doling out austerity for the 99%.

Of course, Ed Miliband went from that to photo opps in Greggs, and jumped on every bandwagon (or should that be caravan?) going. Now he leads the charge against cutting tax reliefs for wealthy philanthropists – from class warrior to woolly liberal in two weeks. It is a snapshot of his leadership – vacillating, inconsistent and ultimately inconsequential.

So back to the Budget. The lost corporation and income tax revenue requires other taxes to rise to make up the void and/or public spending is cut.

In a throwaway remark, Osborne casually added that to balance the books “we would need to make savings in welfare of £10 billion by 2016”. This is on top of the £20 billion in welfare cuts already set out and being implemented with much misery and resistance.

What was unique about this comment, was that when you delved into the Budget Red Book (the lengthy tome that accompanies that parliamentary pantomime) there was no detail. In fact all you could find is that the precise figure is £10.5bn and neither Treasury nor social security ministers could say where a penny of these new cuts would fall.

The Budget highlighted that we have an incompetent government waging class war let off the hook by a pallid (some might say pasty) opposition.

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