On 21 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered the 2012 Budget for the UK. The details of the tax and benefit changes can be found in the Budget Report, with the Treasury’s summary of the tax changes here.
One of the key elements in the Budget was the reduction in the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45% from April 2013. The Chancellor argued that the introduction of the 50% rate in 2010 had raised very little extra tax revenue. Partly this was the result of people managing their tax affairs so that they could bring forward income to the year before the 50% rate was introduced – a practice known as forestalling. People are likely to do the reverse with the latest tax change and delay receiving income until next year. For details of the effects of forestalling, see the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Economic and fiscal outlook charts and tables Box 4.2a.
But part of the reason for the 50% tax rate raising relatively little has been the effect on incentives. A rise in the top rate of income tax can encourage people to move from the country – or move their incomes; it may discourage top earners from working more; it may encourage people to engage in various tax avoidance schemes; it may encourage people to evade taxes by not declaring all their income.
The effect of a rise (or fall) in the marginal income tax rate (t) on taxable income is given by the taxable income elasticity (TIE). This is defined as the proportionate change in taxable income (Y) divided by the proportionate change in the net-of-income-tax rate (r) (where r = 100 – t: i.e. the percentage of an extra pound that is not paid in income tax, but is retained by the taxpayer for spending or saving). TEI is thus ΔY/Y ÷ Δr/r. The larger the disincentive effect of raising taxes, the more will taxable income fall and hence the higher will be the value of TIE.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in 2010 based its calculations on a TIE of 0.35 for the rise in the top marginal rate of income tax from 40% to 50%. This means that for each 1% fall in the net-of-income-tax rate, taxable income would fall by 0.35%. With a TIE of 0.35, the OBR calculated that the new top rate would bring an extra £2.9bn per year by 2011-12 (after allowing for any temporary residual effects of forestalling). However, the OBR now believes that the TIE is significantly higher and that the 50% rate will bring only an extra £0.7bn in 2011/12.
In its analysis of the effects of a cut in the top rate from 50% to 45%, the OBR has assumed a TIE of 0.45.
Turning to the costing of the move to 45 per cent, measured against our baseline that reflects the new information on the 50 per cent yield, we have endorsed as reasonable and central the Government’s estimate that the underlying cost would be around £0.1 billion in 2013-14, based on an assumed TIE of 0.45. The figure is as low as this because a TIE of 0.45 implies that the revenue-maximising additional tax rate is around 48 per cent. Moving from just above to just below this rate would therefore have very little revenue impact. Moving the additional rate back to 40 per cent would take it further below the revenue maximising rate and would thus be more expensive at roughly an additional £600 million. But for the reasons set out above we would again emphasise the huge uncertainties here.
Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2012 (p110)
The government’s arguments for reducing the top tax rate, therefore, are that it will have little effect on tax revenue, but would have a significant effect in encouraging inward investment, discouraging emigration of high earners and encouraging high earners to work more.
Rich tax cuts offset by changes to relief Financial Times, Vanessa Houlder (21/3/12)
Budget 2012: A big debate about small numbers (cont’d) BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (21/3/12)
Budget 2012: End of 50p tax, but 45p rate here to stay The Telegraph, Robert Winnett (21/3/12)
Budget 2012: Top income tax rate ‘won’t go any lower than 45p’ This is Money, Tim Shipman (22/3/12)
Why is tax avoidance a reason for letting people off tax? New Statesman, Alex Hern (22/3/12)
Study: Millionaires Don’t Flee States Due To Tax Hikes Think Progress, Pat Garofalo (22/3/12)
Laffer Curve Fun, with a side serving of nepotism Mark Wadsworth blog (22/3/12)
Budget 2012: are we really all in this together? Guardian, Polly Curtis (21/3/12)
Did the 50p tax rate really raise less than £1 billion in 2010/11? Touch Stone, Howard Reed (22/3/12)
45p: Power beats evidence Stumbling and Mumbling, Chris Dillow (22/3/12)
Reports, documents and presentations
Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2012 OBR
Budget 2012 HM Treasury (21/3/12)
Budget 2012 IFS (March 2012)
The Exchequer effect of the 50 per cent additional rate of income tax HMRC (March 2012)
Can More Revenue be Raised by Increasing Income Tax Rates for the Very Rich? IFS, Mike Brewer and James Browne (2009)
The 50p income tax rate IFS, James Browne (March 2012)
- What are the arguments for and against reducing the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%? Do the same arguments apply to a further reduction to 40%?
- According to the OBR, at what top tax rate is the top of the Laffer curve?
- Why are the OBR’s calculations subject to considerable possible error?
- Why might a fall in the top tax rate from 50% to 40% not exactly reverse all the effects of an earlier rise in the top tax rate from 40% to 50%? In other words, why may the effects not be symmetrical?
- Distinguish between the income and substitution effects of a change in income tax rates. Which is assumed to be larger by the OBR in the case of reducing the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%? Explain.
‘Austerity’ seems to be the buzzword, as more and more countries across Europe make steps towards reducing substantial budget deficits. The UK has implemented £6.2 billion of cuts, with cuts of £50 billion expected by 2015 to tackle a budget deficit of over 10% of GDP. Portugal’s deficit stands at 8% of GDP and this will be tackled with rises in income, corporate and VAT tax, together with spending cuts aimed at halving the budget deficit by next year. Ireland’s austerity package includes public-sector pay cuts of up to 20%, plus reductions in child benefit, tax rises, and several key services facing cuts in employment, including emergency service and teachers. And, of course, we can’t forget Greece, with a budget deficit 12.2% of GDP, a national debt of 124.9% of GDP, and a forecast to remain in recession this year and the next. The Greek economy faces hard times with a huge austerity drive, including 12% civil service pay cuts, a large privatisation programme, and substantial pension cuts.
Greece is already in receipt of a €110bn rescue package. The Hungarian economy has already received €20bn aid from the EU, IMF and World Bank and spending cuts have been implemented, as markets began to fear that Hungary would become the next Greece. Germany is the most recent country to announce austerity measures, including plans to cut €10 billion annually until 2016.
But, what does this all mean? For years, many countries have spent beyond their means and only with the global recession did this growing problem really rear its ugly head. The only way to eliminate the budget deficit and restore confidence in the economy and ensure future prosperity is to raise taxes and/or to implement spending cuts. As the German Finance Minister said: “The main concern of citizens is that the national deficit could take on immeasurable proportions”. Unfortunately, this has already happened in some counties.
Although austerity measures are undoubtedly needed over the medium term in order to get deficits down, the impact of them is already being felt across the EU. Strikes have already occurred in massive proportions across Greece in response to the austerity package and tens of thousand of workers in Spain and Denmark also took to the streets in protest. There was anger from industry, trade unions and the media in response to €86 billion of cuts ordered in Germany between 2011 and 2014. The UK has already seen a number of strikes and more could be to come with further spending cuts in the pipeline. The Public and Commercial Services Union is threatening to re-launch strikes which began in March involving 200 000 civil servants (the action was suspended for the election.) A spokesman said: “If the cuts are anything like what is being suggested, industrial action by the unions is not only likely, it’s inevitable.”
EU governments have announced public spending cuts of €200 billion, together with a €500 billion safety blanket for the euro. Although these cuts are unlikely to have any positive effects for the everyday person for perhaps many years to come, in order to restore confidence and ensure a future economy that is both prosperous and stable, these austerity measures are deemed by many as essential. As Guy Verhofstadt (the former Belgian Prime Minister) said: “We’re entering a long period of economic stagnation. That will be the main problem for years. Europe is the new Japan.”
But will reduced aggregate demand resulting from the cuts lead to a double-dip recession and a (temporarily) worsening deficit from automatic fiscal stabilisers? We wait with baited breath.
EU austerity drive country-by-country BBC News (7/6/10)
Europe embraces the cult of austerity but at what cost? The Observer, Toby Helm, Ian Traynor and Paul Harris (13/6/10)
Germany joins EU austerity drive with €10bn cuts Guardian, Helena Smith (6/6/10)
G20 to endorse EU crisis strategy Reuters (28/5/10)
The Global recovery? It’s each state for itself Guardian, Jonathan Fenby (9/6/10)
Austerity angers grow in Europe AFP (9/6/10)
Austerity Europe: who faces the cuts? Guardian, Ian Traynor and Katie Allen (12/6/10)
Is this the end of the European welfare state? New Statesman (10/6/10)
- Are spending cuts or tax rises the best method to reduce a budget deficit? Explain your answer.
- What are the economic costs of the austerity packages across Europe?
- Who is likely to gain from the debt crisis in Europe?
- If austerity packages had not been initiated to the extent that they have, how do you think the rest of the world have reacted?
- Using the BBC News article and the Guardian article ‘Austerity measures: who faces the cuts?’, which country do you think is (a) in the best state and (b) in the worst state?
- How will you be affected by the austerity measures?
The incoming coalition government in the UK has been spelling out its fiscal policy. It is sticking to the Conservative pledge of cutting £6bn from government spending this fiscal year (6 April 2010 to 5 April 2011). It hopes to make most of these by ‘efficiency savings’ – in other words, providing the same level of service for less money. It has, however, said that it will take advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England as to whether the cuts need to be delayed if the economy weakens substantially.
But the Bank of England is forecasting a continuation of the recovery (see its latest Inflation Report below), even assuming no further quantitative easing beyond the £200bn of assets purchased by the Bank. The Governor, Mervyn King, feels that the economy can indeed bear the proposed £6bn cut in government spending and that this will also send an important signal to the market that the government is committed to reducing the deficit.
The new government has also said that it will honour the Liberal Democrat pledge to raise the personal tax free allowance on income tax to £10,000. It has also backtracked somewhat on the Conservative pledge not to raise national insurance. Only employers will be spared the rise; employees will have to pay it.
So has there been a major change in fiscal policy? Has the focus moved from one of maintaining aggregate demand in order to avoid falling back into recession to one of making a start on tackling the deficit straight away? Or is the change in emphasis more one of presentation than substance? The following webcasts looks at the new fiscal policy emerging from number 11 and at the latest forecasts for growth and inflation.
What kind of medicine is the economy going to be fed? BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (13/5/10)
Policy breakdown for Lib Dem-Conservative coalition BBC News, James Landale (12/5/10)
Savings cuts to ‘hit middle class families’ BBC News, Keith Doyle (15/5/10)
Inflation Report, May 2010 Bank of England (click on Watch Webcast) (12/5/10)
Documents and data
Coalition Agreement published (see here for text of agreement) Conservative Party (11/5/10)
Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations agreements Liberal Democrats (11/5/10)
Inflation Report, May 2010 (portal) Bank of England, see in particular:
Department by department, what the new Government plans to do Independent (13/5/10)
VAT rise looms as coalition deal adds estimated £10bn to debt Guardian, Katie Allen and Julia Kollewe (13/5/10)
Some initial reaction to the Tory / Lib Dem coalition agreement Institute for Fiscal Studies Press Release, Robert Chote and Mike Brewery (12/5/10)
Tax rises likely under coalition government, says Institute for Fiscal Studies Telegraph, Edmund Conway (13/5/10)
Give and take BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (12/5/10)
- What ground has been given by (a) the Conservatives; (b) the Liberal Democrats in terms of their proposed economic policies (see Looking at the manifestos for details of their proposed policies).
- What will be the implications of a £6bn cut in government spending on aggregate demand? What other determinants of aggregate demand need to be taken into account in order to assess the likely growth in GDP over the coming months?
- What are the distributional consequences of (a) a rise in the personal income tax allowance to £10,000; (b) a rise in VAT?
- Has there been a major change in fiscal policy?
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%
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)
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.)
- Consider the efficiency and equity arguments for and against the income tax changes in 2010/11.
- What do you understand by the terms the marginal rate of tax and the average rate of tax?
- 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.
- How can fiscal drag occur even if personal allowances are raised by the rate of inflation?
The Chancellor’s pre-Budget report was a massive political and economic gamble. The government has clearly recognised the potential seriousness of the economic situation and, in an attempt to avoid a prolonged recession, has injected £21bn into the UK economy in the form of tax cuts and spending increases. The headline grabbing changes were a cut in VAT and an increase in the top rate of income tax to 45% for those earning over £150,000 per year, but there was a raft of other changes including £3bn of public-sector infrastructure projects being brought forward.
Will this fiscal kick be enough to prevent a deep recession? The Chancellor clearly thinks so. He has amended his forecasts for economic growth to acknowledge that GDP will fall by 1% in 2009, but he believes growth will bounce back to 1.75% in 2010. The links below are to a selection of articles relating to the pre-Budget report, but there are plenty of other sites offering discussion and analysis of the issues relating to this unprecendented Keynesian fiscal boost.
Pre-Budget Report: Alistair Darling’s £1 trillion debt gamble Times Online (25/11/08)
Pre-budget report 2008 Guardian (25/11/08)
Pre-Budget report 2008 BBC News Online (25/11/08)
Average earners lose out in PBR BBC News Online (25/11/08)
Pre-Budget Report – the documents BBC News Online (25/11/08) Links to all pre-budget report documents as pdf files
Robinson and Peston analysis of PBR BBC News Online (25/11/08) Video from the Daily Politics show
Darling needs to cure a nation hooked on debt Guardian (24/11/08)
Darling unveils borrowing gamble BBC News Online (24/11/08)
Analysis: is this the death of New Labour? Times Online (24/11/08)
Alistair Darling announces £20bn economic boost Times Online (24/11/08)
Alistair Darling’s £20bn tax giveaway Times Online (24/11/08)
The mother of all gambles Guardian (24/11/08)
Obama and Darling: compare and contrast Guardian (24/11/08) Video comparing the packages announced by Alistair Darling and Barack Obama
The £21bn tax gamble Guardian (25/11/08)
Call this a cure? Guardian (25/11/08)
- Write a short paragraph outlining the main policies set out in the pre-Budget report.
- Evaluate the likely success of the policies announced in the pre-Budget report in preventing a prolonged recession for the UK economy.
- Discuss the short-term and long-term impact on the UK money markets of the high levels of borrowing required to fund the tax and spending changes set out in the 2008 pre-Budget report.
- Assess the likely impact of the increase in the top tax rate of income tax to 45% on (i) consumer expenditure growth, (ii) tax revenues, and (iii) the incentive for higher rate tax payers to work harder.
- Discuss whether a fiscal solution, such as that set out in the pre-budget report, or a monetary policy solution will be more effective at preventing a prolonged recession in the UK..