Tag: fairness

With waiting lists in the NHS at record highs and with the social care system in crisis, there have been growing calls for increased funding for both health and social care. The UK government has just announced tax rises to raise more revenue for both services and has specified new limits on the amounts people must pay towards their care.

In this blog we look at the new tax rises and whether they are fair. We also look at whether the allocation of social care is fair. Clearly, the question of fairness is a contentious one, with people having very different views on what constitutes fairness between different groups in terms of incomes, assets and needs.

Funding

In terms of funding, the government has, in effect, introduced a new tax – the ‘health and social care levy’ to come into effect from April 2022. This will see a tax of 1.25% on the earned incomes of workers (both employees and the self-employed) and 1.25% on employers, making a total of 2.5% on employment income. It will initially be added to workers’ and employers’ national insurance (NI) payments. Currently national insurance is only paid by those below pension age (66). From 2023, the 1.25% levy will be separated from NI and will apply to pensioners’ earned income too.

The starting point for workers will be the same as for the rest of national insurance, currently £9568. Above this, the additional marginal rate of 1.25% will apply to all earned income. This will mean that a person earning £20 000 would pay a levy of £130.40, while someone earning £100 000 would pay £1130.40.

There will also be an additional 1.25% tax on share dividends. However, there will be no additional tax on rental income and capital gains, and on private or state pensions.

It is estimated that the levy will raise around £14 billion per year (0.7% of GDP or 1.6% of total tax revenue), of which £11.2 billion will go to the Department of Health and Social Care in 2022/23 and £9 billion in 2023/24. This follows a rise in income tax of £8 billion and corporation tax of £17 billion announced in the March 2021 Budget. As a result, tax revenues from 2022/23 will be a higher proportion of GDP (just over 34%) than at any time over the past 70 years, except for a short period in 1969/70.

Is the tax fair?

In a narrow sense, it can be argued that the levy is fair, as it is applied at the same percentage rate on all earned income. Thus, the higher a person’s earnings, the greater the amount they will pay. Also, it is mildly progressive. This is because, with a levy-free allowance of just under £10 000, the levy as a proportion of income earned rises gently as income rises: in other words, the average levy rate is higher on higher earners than on lower earners.

But national insurance as a whole is regressive as the rate currently drops from 12% to 2%, and with the levy will drop from 13.25% to 3.25%, once the upper threshold is reached. Currently the threshold is £50 270. As incomes rise above that level, so the proportion paid in national insurance falls. Politically, therefore, it makes sense to decouple the levy from NI, if it is being promoted as being fair as an additional tax on income earners.

Is it fair between the generations? Pensioners who earn income will pay the levy on that income at the same rate as everyone else (but no NI). But most pensioners’ main or sole source of income is their pensions and some, in addition, earn rent on property they own. Indeed, some pensioners have considerable private pensions or rental income. These sources of income will not be subject to the levy. Many younger people whose sole source of income is their wages will see this as unfair between the generations.

Allocation of funds

For the next few years, most of the additional funding will go to the NHS to help reduced waiting lists, which rocketed with the diversion of resources to treating COVID patients. Of the additional £11.2 billion for health and social care in 2022/23, some £9.4 billion will go to the NHS; and of the £9 billion in 2023/24, some £7.2 billion will go to the NHS. This leaves only an additional £1.8 billion each year for social care.

The funding should certainly help reduce NHS waiting lists, but the government refused to say by how much. Also there is a major staff shortage in the NHS, with many employees having returned to the EU following Brexit and fewer new employees coming from the EU. It may be that the staff shortage will push up wages, which will absorb some of the increase in funding.

The additional money from the levy going to social care would be wholly insufficient on its own to tackle the crisis. As with the NHS, the social care sector is facing an acute staff shortage, again aggravated by Brexit. Wages are low, and when travel time between home visits is taken into account, many workers receive well below the minimum wage. Staff in care homes often find themselves voluntarily working extra hours for no additional pay so as to provide continuity of care. Often levels of care are well below what carers feel is necessary.

Paying for social care

The government also announced new rules for the level of contributions by individuals towards their care costs. The measures in England are as follows. The other devolved nations have yet to announce their measures.

  • Those with assets of less than £20 000 will not have to contribute towards their care costs from their assets, but may have to contribute from their income.
  • Those with assets between £20 000 and £100 000 will get means-tested help towards their care costs.
  • Those with assets over £100 000 will initially get no help towards their care costs. This is increasing from the current limit of £23 250
  • There will be a limit of £86 000 to the amount people will have to contribute towards their care costs over their lifetime (from October 2023). These costs include both care in a care home and care at home.
  • These amounts will apply only to care costs and not to the board and lodging costs in care homes. The government has not said how much people could be expected to contribute towards these living costs. A problem is that care homes generally do not itemise costs and hence it may be hard to distinguish care costs from living costs.
  • Where people’s care costs are fully or partly covered, these will be paid by their local authority.
  • A house will only count as a person’s asset if the person is going into a care home and it is not occupied by a spouse or partner. All financial assets, by contrast, will count.
  • Many people in care homes will not be judged to be frail enough to be in receipt of support from their local authority. These people’s expenditure would not count towards the cap.

Setting the cap to the amount people must pay at the relatively high figure of £86 000 may ease the pressure on local authorities, as many people in care homes will die before the cap is reached. However, those who live longer and who get their care paid for above the cap, will pay no more no matter what their level of assets, even though they may be very rich. This could be seen to be unfair. A fairer system would be one where a proportion of a person’s assets had to be used to pay for care with no upper limit.

Also, the £1.8 billion is likely to fall well short of what local authorities will need to bring social care back to the levels considered acceptable, especially as the asset limit to support is being raised from £23 250 to £100 000. Local authority expenditure on social care fell by 7.5% per person in real terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20. This means that local authorities may have to increase council tax to top up the amount provided by the government from the levy.

Articles

Video

Government document

Data

Questions

  1. How would you define a ‘fair’ way of funding social care?
  2. Distinguish between a proportional, progressive and regressive tax. How would you categorise (a) the new health and social care levy; (b) national insurance; (c) income tax; (d) VAT?
  3. Argue the case for providing social care free at the point of use to all those who require it.
  4. Argue the case for charging a person for some or all of their social care, with the amount charged being based on (a) the person’s income; (b) the person’s wealth; (c) both income and wealth.
  5. Argue the case for and against capping the amount a person should pay towards their social care.
  6. When a tax is used to raise revenue for a specific purpose it is known as a ‘hypothecated tax’. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a hypothecated tax for funding health and social care?

In a series of five podcasts, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the first week of January 2021, Amol Rajan and guests examine different aspects of inequality and consider the concept of fairness.

As the notes to the programme state:

The pandemic brought renewed focus on how we value those who have kept shelves stacked, transport running and the old and sick cared for. So is now the time to bring about a fundamental shift in how our society and economy work?

The first podcast, linked below, examines the distribution of wealth in the UK and how it has changed over time. It looks at how rising property and share prices and a lightly taxed inheritance system have widened inequality of wealth.

It also examines rising inequality of incomes, a problem made worse by rising wealth inequality, the move to zero-hour contracts, gig working and short-term contracts, the lack of social mobility, austerity following the financial crisis of 2007–9 and the lockdowns and restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic, with layoffs, people put on furlough and more and more having to turn to food banks.

Is this rising inequality fair? Should fairness be considered entirely in monetary terms, or should it be considered more broadly in social terms? These are issues discussed by the guests. They also look at what policies can be pursued. If the pay of health and care workers, for example, don’t reflect their value to our society, what can be done to increase their pay? If wealth is very unequally distributed, should it be redistributed and how?

The questions below are based directly on the issues covered in the podcast in the order they are discussed.

Podcast

Questions

  1. In what ways has Covid-19 been the great ‘unequaliser’?
  2. What scarring/hysteresis effects are there likely to be from the pandemic?
  3. To what extent is it true that ‘the more your job benefits other people, the less you get paid’?
  4. How has the pandemic affected inter-generational inequality?
  5. How have changes in house prices skewed wealth in the UK over the past decade?
  6. How have changes in the pension system contributed to inter-generational inequality?
  7. How has quantitative easing affected the distribution of wealth?
  8. Why is care work so poorly paid and how can the problem be addressed?
  9. How desirable is the pursuit of wealth?
  10. How would you set about defining ‘fairness’?
  11. Is a mix of taxation and benefits the best means of tackling economic unfairness?
  12. How would you set about deciding an optimum rate of inheritance tax?
  13. How do you account for the growth of in-work poverty?
  14. In what ways could wealth be taxed? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such taxes?

Ministers are considering introducing a minimum price of 45p per unit of alcohol on all drinks sold in England and Wales. The Scottish government has already passed legislation for a minimum price of 50p per unit in Scotland. This, however, is being challenged in the Scottish courts and is being examined by the European Commission.

As we saw in a previous blog, Alcohol minimum price, the aim is to prevent the sale of really cheap drinks in supermarkets and other outlets. Sometimes supermarkets sell alcoholic drinks at less than average cost as a ‘loss leader’ in order to encourage people to shop there. Two-litre bottles of strong cider can be sold for as little as £2. Sometimes they offer multibuys which are heavily discounted. The idea of minimum pricing is to stop these practices without affecting ‘normal’ prices.

The effect of a 45p minimum price per unit would give the following typical minimum prices (depending on strength):

Strength Size Minimum price
Wine 12.5% 750ml £4.22
Beer/lager (normal) 4.5% pint (568ml) £1.15
Beer/lager (strong) 7.5% pint (568ml) £1.92
Beer/lager (normal) 4.5% 2 litres £4.05
Beer/lager (strong) 7.5% 2 litres £6.75
Cider (normal) 5% pint (568ml) £1.28
Cider (strong) 8% pint (568ml) £2.04
Cider (normal) 5% 2 litres £4.50
Cider (strong) 8% 2 litres £7.20
Whisky 40% 700ml £12.60
Vodka 37.5% 700ml £11.81

The hope is that by preventing the sale of really cheap drinks in supermarkets, people will no longer be encouraged to ‘pre-load’ so that when they go out for the evening they are already drunk.

But how successful will such a policy be in cutting down drunkenness and the associated anti-social behaviour in many towns and cities, especially on Friday and Saturday nights? The following articles discuss the issue and look at some of the evidence on price elasticity of demand.

Articles
Alcohol minimum price plan to be unveiled BBC News, Dominic Hughes (28/11/12)
Multi-buy alcohol deals face ban under minimum price plans The Telegraph, James Kirkup (28/11/12)
Alcohol at 40p, 45p or 50p a unit to be Cameron choices for minimum price The Guardian, Juliette Jowit (25/11/12)
Minimum price plan to end cheap alcohol sales BBC News, Nick Triggle (28/11/12)
Minimum pricing having a difficult birth in Scotland BBC News, James Cook (28/11/12)
Cameron to set minimum price for alcohol Independent, Brian Brady (25/11/12)
Minimum Alcohol Price: Doubts Measures Will Cut Binge Drinking Huffington Post (25/11/12)
An industry divided: Pubs set against brewers and retailers in battle for cheap booze This is Money, Rupert Steiner (26/11/12)
A minimum price per unit of alcohol BMC Public Health, Adam J Lonsdale, Sarah J Hardcastle and Martin S Hagger (23/11/12)

Home Office alcohol policy
Alcohol strategy (23/3/12)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram to illustrate the effect of a minimum price per unit of alcohol on (a) cheap cider; (b) good quality wine.
  2. How is the price elasticity of demand for alcoholic drinks relevant to determining the success of minimum pricing?
  3. Compare the effects of imposing a minimum unit price of alcohol with raising the duty on alcoholic drinks? What are the revenue implications of the two policies for the government?
  4. What externalities are involved in the consumption of alcohol? How could a socially efficient price for alcohol be determined?
  5. Is imposing a minimum price for alcohol fair? How will it effect the distribution of income?

Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, has been conducting a review of higher education and its funding in England. The report was published on Tuesday 12 October. At present, student fees are capped at £3290 per year. From the academic year 2012/13 Browne recommends that the cap be removed, allowing universities to charge what they like (or what the market will bear). It is anticipated that, under these circumstances, universities would typically charge around £7000 per year, but some universities could charge much more – perhaps more than £12,000 for courses in high demand at prestigious universities. Universities would receive reduced funding from the government, through a new Higher Education Council, and the funding would vary by subject, with ‘priority’ subjects, such as science, technology and medicine, being given more. It is anticipated that total government funding for teaching to universities in England would be only just over 20% of the current level.

Browne recommends that universities that charge more than £6000 a year would have to pay a proportion of the extra income to the government as a levy for supporting poorer students. Those that charge more than £7000 would have to demonstrate that they were widening access.

Students would not need to pay any of the fees upfront (although they could do if they chose). Instead, they would receive a loan to cover the full fee. They would also be eligible for an annual loan of £3750 to cover living expenses. In addition, students from households with incomes below £25,000 would be eligible for a cost-of-living grant of £3250 on top of the loan. with household incomes above £25,000 the size of this grant would diminish, and disappear with household incomes above £60,000.

Students would begin paying back their loan after they graduate and are earning more then £21,000 per year (the current figure is £15,000). The amount that graduates would be required to pay back would rise sharply as earnings increase. For example, with an income of £30,000 per year, the graduate would be required to pay back £68 per month; with an income of £60,000 the monthly payment would be £293. Interest would accumulate on the unpaid balance at a rate equal to inflation plus 2.2%. For those earning below £21,000 threshold, it would accumulate at the rate of inflation only.

Not surprisingly, there have been mixed reactions to the recommendations from universities. Some universities have argued that competition will mean that they would not be allowed to charge the approximately £7000 fee that would be necessary to make up for the reduction in direct government funding. Predictions of closures of university departments or closures or mergers of whole universities are being made. Other universities have welcomed the ability to charge significantly higher fees to help their financial position.

The reactions from prospective students have been less mixed. With students starting in 2012 set to graduate with debts in excess of £30,000 and many with much higher debts, the Browne Review report makes bleak reading.

So who are the gainers and losers and what will be the benefits to higher education? The following articles look at the issues.

Note that the government has subsequently decided not to follow Browne’s recommendations fully. Annual fees will be capped at £9000 and the government expects that fees will typically be £6000.

Articles
Lord of the market: let competition and choice drive quality Times Higher Education, Simon Baker (14/10/10)
In the shake-up to come, no guarantees for anyone Times Higher Education (14/10/10)
Browne review: Universities must set their own tuition fees Guardian, Jeevan Vasagar and Jessica Shepherd (12/10/10)
Cable ‘endorses’ tuition fee increase plan BBC News (12/10/10)
Browne review at a glance Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (12/10/10)
Foolish, risky, lazy, complacent and dangerous NUS news, Aaron Porter (12/10/10)
Student debt: the £40k question for Lord Browne (includes two videos) Channel 4 News, Aaron Porter (8/10/10)
Blind spots in education proposals Financial Times letters, Philip Wales (14/10/10)
Tuition fees: securing a future for elitism Guardian, comment is free, Carole Leathwood (13/10/10)
NUS Scotland president Liam Burns condemns English tuition fee plans Courier (13/10/10)
Lord Browne review: round-up of reaction Telegraph (12/10/10)
University of Leeds responds to Lord Browne’s review of university funding Academia News (12/10/10)
Browne Review: Scrap university fees cap Chemistry World (12/10/10)
Invisible hand of market takes hold Financial Times (12/10/10)
A personal perspective on the Browne Review Progress Online, David Hall (12/10/10)
Tuition fee increases will be capped, says Nick Clegg BBC News (24/10/10)

Webcasts and podcasts
Students to face ‘unlimited fees’ BBC News, Nick Robinson (12/10/10)
Lord Browne interviewed by Nick Robinson BBC News (12/10/10)
Aaron Porter and Steve Smith on university funding and fees BBC Daily Politics (12/10/10)
University proposals create ‘two-tier system’ BBC Today Programme, Professors Roger Brown and Nicholas Barr (13/10/10)

The report and the NUS and IFS responses
Securing a sustainable future for higher education Independent Review (12/10/10)
Browne Review home page Independent Review
Initial Response to the Report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (the Browne Review) NUS, Aaron Porter (10/10/10)
Graduates and universities share burden of Browne recommendations Institute for Fiscal Studies (12/10/10)

Questions

  1. To what extent will the proposals in the Browne review result in a free market in university courses?
  2. To what extent will competition between universities drive up teaching quality?
  3. Identify any market failures that might prevent an efficient allocation of university resources?
  4. To what extent will Browne’s proposals result in a fair allocation of resources between graduates and non-graduates, and between those who graduate under the new system and those who graduated in the past?
  5. Identify any externalities involved in university education. In what ways might these externalities be ‘internalised’?

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced that from 2013 child benefit would not be paid to any household where one or both parents had a high enough income to pay tax at the 40% rate. This means that if either parent earns over £43,875, they will receive no child benefit for any of their children. If, however, neither parent pays tax at 40%, then they will continue to receive it for all their children. Thus if both parents each earned, say, £43,870, giving a total household income of £87,740, they would continue to receive child benefit.

Not surprisingly, people have claimed that it is very unfair to penalise households where one person earns just over the threshold and the other does not work or earns very little and not penalise households where both parents earn just below the threshold. So what are the justifications for this change? What are the implications for income distribution? And what are the effects on incentives? Are there any people who would be put off working? The following articles look at these questions.

Articles
How benefit cuts could affect you Guardian, Patrick Collinson and Mark King (5/10/10)
Q&A: Child benefit measures will be messy Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (5/10/10)
Cameron Defends Cut in Child Benefits for Stay-at-Home Mothers Bloomberg Businessweek, Thomas Penny and Kitty Donaldson (5/10/10)
Three million families hit by child benefit axe Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (5/10/10)
George Osborne’s child benefit plans are characterised by unfairness Telegraph letters (5/10/10)
Child benefit: case study Telegraph, Harry Wallop (5/10/10)
Child benefit cuts ‘tough but necessary’ say ministers BBC News (4/10/10)
Child Benefit Changes – Should Parents Take a Pay Cut? Suite101, John Oyston (5/10/10)
No such thing as an easy reform BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (5/10/10)
Child benefit saga: Lessons to be learned BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (6/10/10)

Speech
Higher rate taxpayers to lose child benefits from 2013: extracts from speech BBC News, Nick Robinson (5/10/10)
Our tough but fair approach to welfare Conservative Party Conference Speech, George Osborne (4/10/10)

Data and information
Child Benefit: portal HMRC
Child Benefit rates HMRC
Income Tax, rates and allowances HMRC

Questions

  1. Assess the fairness arguments for not paying child benefit to any household where at least one person pays tax at the 40% rate.
  2. For a family with three children, how much extra would a parent earning £1 below the threshold have to earn to restore their disposable income to the level they started with?
  3. What incentive effects would result from the proposals? How might ‘rational’ parents respond if one parent now stays at home and the other works full time and earns over £43,870, but where both parents have equal earning potential?
  4. What income and substitution effects are there of the proposed changes?
  5. Discuss other ways in which child benefit could be reformed to achieve greater fairness and save the same amount of money.
  6. What are the arguments for and against tapering the reduction in child benefit as parents earn more?