On the immediate row over National Insurance contributions, I guess Labour are right. Any incoming government will have to raise money quickly in order to get the deficit under control and it seems sensible to do this through a mixture of tax rises and spending cuts - to do it all through spending cuts alone would have a severe impact on public services and the wider economy. National Insurance also has the advantage of being a fair tax which varies according to the amount you earn. It’s not perfect - we already tax jobs quite heavily - but it’s the fairest way for a quick fix.
But while raising NI is necessary for achieving a short term goal, it falls woefully far of the bar as a long term policy on tax. Such a narrow debate misses the broader problem – that for the last few years Britain’s tax system has not raised enough to fund quality public services, that it disproportionately hits the poor, and that it lets important areas such as wealth and carbon emissions off the hook.
A more radical approach would be for politicians to try to tackle these bigger problems. It would shift away from taxing low and middle incomes (effectively a tax on people’s hard work and effort), towards taxing wealth (much of the wealth that is generated in Britain is based on little more than the luck of rising land and property prices and inheritance from family members).
In my opinion, an ambitious long-term pledge on tax might include:
- A tax that captured a portion of rising land values and property prices
- A 50% income tax for pay slips over £100,000 a year
- A financial transactions tax or ‘Tobin Tax’
- A tax that penalised carbon emissions
These would all take a while to put in place, and until that time NI will have to be raised to plug the deficit. But they are a more sustainable solution to funding the investment this country needs, and a far fairer way of doing it.