Robert Halfon is the Member of Parliament for Harlow. Follow Robert on Twitter.
I read your latest article in the Telegraph with interest. We agree on many
things. For example, that a new homes tax would be misguided. You are right to
highlight the danger of taxing property, not merely because of the cost of
revaluing Council Tax bands, but also because of the precedent that it
sets. First they come for homes worth more than £2 million. Then £1 million.
Then £500,000 … ?
However, we disagree about restoring
the 10p rate of tax. Like many on the Centre-Right, I believe that the creation
of new progressive bands of income tax would be a noble goal for Conservatives.
For example, a 10p band introduced above the current personal allowance (say
between £9,440 and £12,000) would hand back more than £250 a year to a worker
on minimum wage, and would help them to earn much closer to a Living Wage in
cash-terms. Conservatives could also look to widen out a 10p band over time.
This could help more middle earners as well.
You take a different view. In the
Telegraph, your preference is for tax cuts to be focused on raising the
personal allowance even higher than £10,000 to “take more people out of tax
altogether”. This is where we part company. I believe that having
raised the personal tax-free allowance to £10,000, Conservatives should
argue in a restoration of the 10p rate instead.
There are some important differences
here, and they are worth exploring.
First, your language of your
Telegraph article is deliberately misleading. You state that the goal
of the CutTaxTo10p.com campaign is to “raise taxes on the poor”. This is
simply wrong, and has led people to an inaccurate conclusion.
As you know, it would be much truer
“A worker on £10,500 a year would
pay a 0p marginal rate IF the personal allowance was raised to
£11,000; or they would pay a 10p marginal rate on the last few hundred pounds
of their income IF the 10p band was restored between £10,000
Fair enough. But,
the blindingly obvious point is that in both scenarios a worker would
pay less tax than currently. That, surely, should be the headline.
Today, a worker on the minimum wage
is paying a marginal rate of 20p in the pound. So, a 10p rate would be a big
improvement for them, compared with the status quo. Neither of us are
campaigning for higher taxes on the low-paid. This is something that you seem
loath to admit.
Second, your argument is
economically purist, but the politics are questionable. Let me turn this
question on its head. Is there a level above which the personal allowance
should not rise, in your view? Or, are all rises always good? How many workers
do you believe should pay income tax? Everyone? Or, is it only those on middle
incomes and above? For example, would you prefer to see HMRC raise much more of
its revenue from consumption taxes, like fuel duty, which can be deeply
regressive? Or, should the income tax base remain broader, so that everyone can
feel the weight and burden of a big State? My skepticism about your logic is
that – if carried to its conclusion – it would leave us with a larger and
larger constituency of people who will not care if income tax is increased,
because they do not pay it. This is not some imaginary future problem. It is
the actual character, right now, of the public debate raging about “mansion
taxes” and “wealth taxes” and the top 50p rate of income tax. Most families do
not pay such taxes, and expect never to pay them. Hence, they have little
reason to oppose them, whatever the economic evidence is. By advocating a
system where we take more and more people out of income tax, you risk
accelerating this trend.
Consider Council Tax as an analogy.
In your view, is it better if everyone pays something, however
little, or should Council Tax be paid only by families who happen to live in
medium-sized and large houses? Your logic says the latter. But how might voters
behave, if they weren't paying their stamp? You seem intensely
relaxed about the political consequences of this question. Nigel Lawson wasn’t relaxed
about it, and he can hardly be considered a Socialist. He started off as a
Chancellor prioritising tax allowances. But, he changed course. He later
said: “I wished to create a large constituency in favour of income-tax
reductions. The last thing I wanted to do was to reduce the size of that
constituency by taking people out of tax altogether.”
Consider a second analogy. Suppose
that you and your friends have have gone out to an expensive restaurant for a
large meal, and finally it comes to splitting the bill. Under my proposals,
most people would still contribute something, albeit the poorest would pay the
least as a share of their income. But your logic dictates that more and more of
the table should have a totally free ride, on the grounds that this “avoids complexity”.
As a Conservative, this makes me uneasy. What lavish choices will your friends
order next time, if they know that Mr Andrew Lilico will be paying the
I agree with you entirely that
National Insurance contributions remain a drag on low wages. Hopefully, NICs
will be reformed as soon as is practicable, since in reality all the money ends
up in the same Treasury pot. As you know, I am strongly in favour of raising
the personal allowance to £10,000 and welcome what George Osborne has done so
far to help with the cost of living, whether this is reducing fuel duty, or
freezing Council Tax. But I remain unconvinced by your article, because it
sought first to uncharitably discredit the CutTaxTo10p.com campaign, with a linguistic sleight of hand, and then
somewhat ducked the central point of this debate, which Nigel Lawson understood
in the 1980s. Namely, that you must bring people with you on the politics, as
much as get the economics right.
Tax-cutting is intensely political.
It shapes not just our economic behaviour but our voting intention as well. For
Conservatives, our political opponents have sought relentlessly in Parliament
and the media to imply that the Coalition's tax cuts favour millionaires, even
when this has been proved empirically to be false. That is why
Conservatives must go the extra mile, to demonstrate why tax-cutting is a moral
mission, without removing entirely the incentive to vote for
lower taxes overall. As Tony Blair might have said, we need tax cuts for the
many, not the few.
Looking forward to your early
Robert Halfon MP