Tag: fiscal drag

On March 23, Rishi Sunak, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered his Spring Statement, in which he announced changes to various taxes and grants. These measures were made against the background of rising inflation and falling living standards.

CPI inflation, currently at 6.2%, is still rising and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that inflation will average 7.4% this year. The poor spend a larger proportion of their income on energy and food than the rich. With inflation rates especially high for gas, electricity and basic foodstuffs, the poor have been seen their cost of living rise by considerably more than the overall inflation rate.

According to the OBR, the higher inflation, by reducing real income and consumption, is expected to reduce the growth in real GDP this year from the previously forecast 6% to 3.8% – a much smaller bounce back from the fall in output during the early stages of the pandemic. Despite this growth in GDP, real disposable incomes will fall by an average of £488 per person this year. As the OBR states:

With inflation outpacing growth in nominal earnings and net taxes due to rise in April, real living standards are set to fall by 2.2 per cent in 2022/23 – their largest financial year fall on record – and not recover their pre-pandemic level until 2024/25.

Fiscal measures

The Chancellor announced a number of measures, which, he argued, would provide relief from rises in the cost of living.

  • Previously, the Chancellor had announced that national insurance (NI) would rise by 1.25 percentage points this April. In the Statement he announced that the starting point for paying NI would rise from a previously planned £9880 to £12 570 (the same as the starting point for income tax). This will more than offset the rise in the NI rate for those earning below £32 000. This makes the NI system slightly more progressive than before. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
  • A cut in fuel duty of 5p per litre. The main beneficiaries will be those who drive more and those with bigger cars – generally the better off. Those who cannot afford a car will not benefit at all, other than from lower transport costs being passed on in lower prices.
  • The 5% VAT on energy-saving household measures such as solar panels, insulation and heat pumps will be reduced to zero.
  • The government’s Household Support Fund will be doubled to £1bn. This provides money to local authorities to help vulnerable households with rising living costs.
  • Research and development tax credits for businesses will increase and small businesses will each get another £1000 per year in the form of employment allowances, which reduce their NI payments. He announced that taxes on business investment will be further cut in the Autumn Budget.
  • The main rate of income tax will be cut from 20% to 19% in two years’ time. Unlike the rise in NI, which only affects employment and self-employment income, the cut in income tax will apply to all incomes, including rental and savings income.

Fiscal drag

The Chancellor announced that public finances are stronger than previously forecast. The rapid growth in tax receipts has reduced public-sector borrowing from £322 billion (15.0 per cent of GDP) in 2020/21 to an expected £128 billion (5.4 per cent of GDP) in 2021/22, £55 billion less than the OBR forecast in October 2021. This reflects not only the growth in the economy, but also inflation, which results in fiscal drag.

Fiscal drag is where rises in nominal incomes mean that the average rate of income tax rises. As tax thresholds for 2022/23 are frozen at 2021/22 levels, a greater proportion of incomes will be taxed at higher rates and tax-free allowances will account for a smaller proportion of incomes. The higher the rate of increase in nominal incomes, the greater fiscal drag becomes. The higher average rate of tax drags on real incomes and spending. On the other hand, the extra tax revenue reduces government borrowing and gives the government more room for extra spending or tax cuts.

The growth in poverty

With incomes of the poor not keeping pace with inflation, many people are facing real hardship. While the Spring Statement will provide a small degree of support to the poor through cuts in fuel duty and the rise in the NI threshold, the measures are poorly targeted. Rather than cutting fuel duty by 5p, a move that is regressive, removing or reducing the 5% VAT on gas and electricity would have been a progressive move.

Benefits, such as Universal Credit and the State Pension, are uprated each April in line with inflation the previous September. When inflation is rising, this means that benefits will go up by less than the current rate of inflation. This April, benefits will rise by last September’s annual inflation rate of 3.1% – considerably below the current inflation rate of 6.2% and the forecast rate for this year of 7.4%. This will push many benefit recipients deeper into poverty.

One measure rejected by Rishi Sunak is to impose a temporary windfall tax on oil companies, which have profited from the higher global oil prices. Such taxes are used in Norway and are currently being considered by the EU. Tax revenues from such a windfall tax could be used to fund benefit increases or tax reductions elsewhere and these measures could be targeted on the poor.

Articles

OBR data and analysis

Questions

  1. Are the changes made to national insurance by the Chancellor progressive or regressive? Could they have been made more progressive and, if so, how?
  2. What are the arguments for and against cutting income tax from 20% to 19% in two years’ time rather than reversing the current increases in national insurance at that point?
  3. What will determine how rapidly (if at all) public-sector borrowing decreases over the next few years?
  4. What are automatic fiscal stabilisers? How does their effect vary with the rate of inflation?
  5. Examine the public finances of another country. Are the issues similar to those in the UK? Recommend fiscal policy measures for your chosen country and provide a justification.

The housing market and what to do about bubbles, second homes and first time buyers is likely to be one of many battle grounds at the next election. For many years, the idea of a mansion tax has been debated and the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has outlined plans for a mansion tax under a Labour government.

The policy would see houses valued at between £2 and £3 million pay £250 a month as a mansion tax. Those owning a home worth tens of millions and those with second homes would pay more under the mansion tax, which would be based on a progressive system. Concerns have been raised about the impact of this tax on home-owners in areas like London, where average house prices are considerably higher than the UK average. Ed Balls has sought to reassure homeowners that payment of the mansion tax could be deferred if earnings do not reach the £42,000 threshold. However, critics have suggested that this policy will only make things worse for middle income households who will not be able to defer such a payment if their income is £43,000. Labour’s MP for Greenwich, Nick Raynsford said, ‘What it does is create a cliff edge. It will still hit people who are asset rich but cash poor.” Writing in the Evening Standard, Ed Balls said:

“Long-standing residents who now find themselves living in high-value homes but do not have an income high enough to pay the higher or top rate of income tax — in other words earn less than £42,000 a year — will be guaranteed the right to defer the charge until the property changes hands.

So a tax on the highest value properties will be done fairly and carefully to help fund our NHS for the future.

Ordinary Londoners should be protected and wealthy foreign investors must finally make a proper tax contribution in this country.”

Although similar in its objective to the Liberal Democrat’s mansion tax, the amount of the tax as a percentage of the value of the home under Labour is significantly lower. It is likely to be between 0.1% and 0.15% of the home’s valued, compared to the 1% levy proposed by the Liberal Democrats.

One debate now surrounds the amount that this tax is expected to raise, especially given the revenue has been ear-marked to finance the NHS. The number of homes whose value is estimated to fall between £2m and £3m varies considerably and hence so would the revenues raised from such a tax. However, the income generated by even the most generous estimates will not come close to raising the ear-marked figure of £1.2bn. As such, there are suggestions that the tax levied on houses worth more than £3m; on foreign owners of residences in the UK and second homes will need to be significant to make up the short fall. A spokesperson for the Conservatives said:

“Serious questions have now been raised about how much revenue Labour would be able to raise from the tax …This is a further unravelling of the policy, which faced fierce criticism after it was revealed that no money would be raised until halfway through the next parliament, and the proposals for mass valuations of family homes was widely slammed as unworkable.”

The UK residential research director of Savills estate agency, Lucian Cook, added:

“Given Labour’s stated ambition to raise £1.2bn, that would leave at least £1.08bn to be raised from the remaining 57,000 properties, possibly more to account for tax leakage elsewhere in the system.”

The impact of the mansion tax will depend on exactly how it is imposed and the thresholds, together with how the threshold changes with the housing market. In the UK, we have seen some houses increase in value by huge amounts in just a few months and with a mansion tax, any such increase in price could move more home-owners into the new progressive tax system. Some argue that it is a tax on Londoners. The following articles consider the proposed policy by Labour.

Ed Balls seeks to reassure London home owners over mansion tax plans The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (20/10/14)
Ed Balls: Mansion tax would start at £250 a month BBC News (20/10/14)
‘Mansion tax’ will mean bill of £250 a month, says Ed Balls Financial Times, Emily Cadman, Kate Allen, Vanessa Houlder and George Parker (20/10/14)
Mansion tax can be deferred in you earn less than £42,000, Ed Balls insists as he reveals details of levy on £2million homes Mail Online, Matt Chorley (20/10/14)
Ed Balls: Mansion tax will cost homeowners £250 a month London Evening Standard (20/10/14)
Middle-class families hit by Labour’s mansion tax The Telegraph, Steven Swinford (20/10/14)
Balls says mansion-tax threshold to rise with home values Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (20/10/14)

Questions

  1. How does a progressive tax system work?/li>
  2. Why are some critics arguing that this mansion tax would just be a tax on Londoners?
  3. What objective is the £42,000 income threshold trying to achieve? Do you think that critics are correct in their assertion that it penalises middle income households?
  4. Fiscal drag is mentioned in the BBC News article as a potential problem with the mansion tax proposed by Labour and that houses may move into the taxable threshold. What is fiscal drag and why is it a potential concern?
  5. How might such a policy affect the incentives of foreigners to invest in the UK housing market? Would this be a good or a bad thing and for who?
  6. The revenues generated from houses between £2 and £3m will not be sufficient to generate £1.2bn. What are the implications for how progressive the mansion tax would need to be and how this might affect homeowners?

According to the Budget 2010 Report, public sector current receipts in 2010-11 will be £541 billion. With expected public sector expenditure of £704 billion this leaves a deficit of £163 billion. Of these receipts, £146 billion or 27% is expected to come from income taxation. Several notable developments in the income tax system for 2010/11 include: the freezing of personal allowances, an income limit for personal allowances for those under 65, and the introduction of an additional income tax band.

Personal allowances are amounts of income that can be earned without being liable to income tax. This amount is to be frozen in 2010/11 at the level of 2009/10 so that for an individual under 65, this limit will remain at £6,475. Allowances are typically raised each year in accordance with the rate of price inflation. This then helps to reduce, in part, what is called fiscal drag. Fiscal drag occurs when there is an increase in the proportion of income taken in income tax as a result of allowances not being adjusted for inflation or for the rate of growth in earnings. In other words, by not increasing the amount of income exempt from taxation in 2010/11, any individual whose earnings rise will pay a higher proportion of their earnings in income taxation.

Another change in 2010-11 is the introduction of an income limit on personal allowances for those earning over £100,000. For every £1 earned above this limit, 50 pence will be taken from the allowance. Hence, given the allowance of £6,475 an individual earning £112,950 or more (i.e. £12,950 over the limit) will, in effect, no longer receive any personal allowance.

Now consider changes to the tax brackets. In 2009/10, an individual with an income tax liability of up to £37,400 (i.e. earnings of up to £43,875, once the personal allowance has been taken into account) pays income tax at 20%. This is the ‘basic rate’ band. With a liability of over £37,400, the excess (i.e. the amount over £37,400) is subject to tax at 40%. This is known as the ‘high rate band’. From the 1st April 2010, there is to be an ‘additional rate’ of 50%. The 50% rate will apply to taxable income over £150,000, while taxable income up to £37,400 will continue to be taxed at 20% and that between £37,401 and £150,000 will be taxed at 40%.

Now, an illustration of how the changes for 2010/11 will affect two individuals. Firstly, consider somebody on £110,000. Their tax allowance is ‘reduced’ by £5,000 to £1,475 and so they have a tax liability of £108,525. Of this, they will pay £7,480 at the basic rate (20% of £37,400) and £28,450 at the higher rate (40% of £71,125). With a tax bill of £35,930, their average rate of income tax in 2010-11 will be 32.66%. In 2009/10, the total tax bill will have been £33,930 (20% of £37,400 plus 40% of £66,125) and so an average rate of tax 30.85%

Finally, consider an individual on £200,000. Their income tax bill in 2010/11 will be £77,520 (20% of £37,400 plus 40% of £112,600 plus 50% of £50,000) and so they will face an average rate of tax income tax of 38.76%. In 2009/10 the tax bill would have been £69,930 (20% of £37,400 plus 40% of`£156,125), an average rate of income tax of 34.97%

Articles

The £20 billion tax raid about to hit The Times, Lauren Thompson (27/3/10)
How to beat the new 50% top rate of tax The Times , Mark Atherton (27/3/10)
Budget 2010: Darling draws election battle lines BBC News (24/3/10)
High earners will feel like they have taken a pummelling The Scotsman, Jeff Salway (27/3/10)

Further information
For the full Budget Report, see Budget 2010: Complete Report HM Treasury, March 2010
(The above consists of the two elements, Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report and Financial Statement and Budget Report. It’s a fairly large pdf file and may take a few seconds to download.)
For the particular measures and their impact on government expenditure and/or revenue, see Annex A: Budget policy decisions of the Financial Statement and Budget Report.
See also Rates and allowances – Income taxation HM Revenue and Customs
(Note: from here you can also link to other tax rates.)

Questions

  1. Consider the efficiency and equity arguments for and against the income tax changes in 2010/11.
  2. What do you understand by the terms the marginal rate of tax and the average rate of tax?
  3. How will the changes to the income tax system in 2010/11 affect the marginal and average income tax rates? You could perhaps try plotting these in a chart for different gross incomes.
  4. How can fiscal drag occur even if personal allowances are raised by the rate of inflation?