One of the key areas discussed in the election was welfare and in particular what to do about those who remain long term dependent on welfare. How can the UK government encourage people back to work? A key issue is the poverty trap: some people are simply better off living on benefits than they are getting a job. Here, we’re talking about the marginal-tax-plus-lost-benefit rate. When you start earning, you get taxed, pay national insurance contributions and lose some of your benefits. All this leads to a situation where work doesn’t pay.
In a paper ‘Escaping the Poverty Trap’ by Lawrence Kay, he considered how much better off people are moving from different benefits into work, taking into account the high costs of actually finding a job and then starting work. He found that after 16 hours of work, someone on Job-seekers’ allowance would be £15.07 poorer and someone on Employment and Support Allowance would be £39.35 worse off. In many cases, people were facing a marginal effective tax rate in excess of 100%. Given this, it’s hardly surprising that Lawrence Kay found that ‘Long term welfare claims have been Britain’s blight for many years’.
However, the Coalition has plans to change this and make sure that those in work are paid more and are better off than those on benefits. By making working life a more attractive option, this should encourage those for whom work doesn’t pay to enter the labour force. This will obviously benefit them, increase the potential output of the economy (hence growth) and improve net taxes, as tax revenue rises and benefits expenditure falls. While this may not lead to tax cuts for those in work (as benefits spending falls), it may mean that more tax revenue is devoted to areas such as health and education or that the government can close the budget deficit.
The ‘universal credit’ aims to simplify the current system and make work pay, by re-introducing a culture of work in households. There is also a plan to place sanctions on those turning down work and place a cap on benefits to any single family. There was also be tax changes aimed at helping those moving into work keep more of their money, thereby removing, or at least reducing, the poverty trap. However, some families will lose out – as the IFS noted, any reform ‘creates winners and losers’. However, the reforms are a step in the right direction. As David Cameron said:
“I think that will, over time, solve the whole poverty trap issue that has bedeviled governments of all colours.”
The Labour party does back some of the changes, but questions whether there is enough help for people finding work. Another issue that must be considered is while it is undoubtedly a good plan to encourage more people to move into work and off benefits, which jobs will they move into? With unemployment still high, now is not exactly the best time to be looking for a job. However, whatever the state of the economy, providing incentives for people to move from benefits into work is definitely a good plan, but of course the methods used will be under constant scrutiny.
Iain Duncan Smith sets out Welfare Reform Bill plans BBC News (17/2/11)
Bill ditches housing benefit cut The Press Association (17/2/11)
Life on benefits is no longer an option Mail Online, James Chapman (17/2/11)
Universal Credit welfare switch ‘to hit 1.4m homes’ BBC News (12/1/11)
Nick Clegg blocks housing benefit cut for jobless Guardian, Patrick Wintour (17/2/11)
It’s time to end this addiction to benefits Telegraph (17/2/11)
Escaping the Poverty Trap Policy Exchange, Lawrence Kay 2010
- What is the poverty trap? Which factors make it worse?
- Why does the poverty trap act as a labour supply disincentive for those on benefits?
- If taxes of those in work have to be increased, what happens to their incentive to work more hours? Think about the income and substitution effects of a real wage change.
- Why is it that working may not pay?
- How does the Universal Credit aim to alleviate the poverty trap? Who are likely to be the winners and losers from the government’s proposed welfare reforms?
- What is a marginal-tax-plus-lost-benefit rate? How do you calculate it?
- Are there any other policies that could also reduce the poverty trap? How effective are they likely to be?
Governments and businesses across the world have been trying to become more environmentally friendly, as everyone becomes more concerned with climate change and emissions. In the UK, incentives had been put in place to encourage large-scale organisations to reduce their consumption of gas and electricity. The Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme began in April 2010, with companies and public-sector orgainisations required to record their energy consumption. Then in April 2011 it was planned that those consuming over 6000 MWh of electricity per year (about £500,000 worth) would be required to purchase ‘allowances’ of £12 for each tonne of carbon dioxide that is emitted by their use of fuel: electricity, gas, coal and other fuels. This would require the organisations working out their ‘carbon footprint’, using guidance from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In the case of coal and gas, the emissions would be largely from burning the fuel. In the case of electricity it would be largely from generating it.
The government had intended to use the revenue received from the sale of allowances to pay subsidies to those firms which were the most successful in cutting their emissions.
By raising money from the largest emitters via a levy and giving it back as a ‘refund’ to those who cut their usage the most, the government would not have been able to raise any revenue, but it did tackle the core of the problem – reducing emissions. However, following the Spending Review, this scheme will now actually generate revenue for the government. Paragraph 2.108 on page 62 of the Spending Review states the following:
The CRC Energy Efficiency scheme will be simplified to reduce the burden on businesses,
with the first allowance sales for 2011-12 emissions now taking place in 2012 rather than 2011. Revenues from allowance sales totalling £1 billion a year by 2014-15 will be used to support the public finances, including spending on the environment, rather than recycled to participants. Further decisions on allowance sales are a matter for the Budget process.
Over 5000 firms and other organisations will now find that their hard work in cutting usage and being more environmentally friendly will give them much less reward, as the revenue raised from the levy will remain in the Treasury. All that firms will now gain from cutting emissions is a reduction their levy bill. The extra £1bn or more raised each year from the scheme will undoubtedly be beneficial for tackling the budget deficit, but it will no longer provide subsidies to firms which reduce their emissions. Furthermore, PriceWaterhouseCooper estimates that it will cost businesses with an average gas and electricity bill of £1 million an extra £76,000 in the first year and this may increase to an additional cost of £114,000 per year by 2015.
It’s hardly surprising that businesses are angry, especially when this withdrawal of subsidy, which some have dubbed a ‘stealth tax’, was not mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech, but was left to the small print of the Spending Review announcement. The following articles look at this highly controversial plan.
Spending Review: Large firms ‘face green stealth tax’ BBC News (21/910/10)
Business lose out via £1bn-a-year green ‘stealth tax’ Management Today, Emma Haslett (21/10/10)
Fury over £1bn green stealth tax in spending review Telegraph, Rowena Mason (20/10/10)
Is ‘stealth’ tax a threat to UK economy going green? BBC News, Roger Harrabin (20/10/10)
Green spending review – it could have been a whole lot worse Business Green, James Murray (20/10/10)
Coalition hits big business with stealth carbon tax Business Green, James Murray (20/10/10)
UK government hits big businesses with stealth carbon tax Reuters, James Murray (20/10/10)
UK’s carbon tax bombshell takes business by surprise Reuters, Will Nichols and James Murray (21/10/10)
CRC allowances sting in UK Spending Review The Engineer, M&C Energy Group (22/10/10)
The CRC scheme
CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Department of Energy and Climate Change
- How does a tax affect the supply curve and what would be the impact on the equilibrium price and quantity?
- To what extent might this “stealth tax” (i.e. withdrawal of subsidy) adversely affect (a) businesses in the UK; (b) the economy more generally?
- Why will firms have to re-look at their cash flow, costs and revenue following this change? How might this affect business strategy?
- By taxing firms using more gas and electricity, what problem is the government trying to solve? (Think about market failure.)