Monday, 25 March 2013

George's Taxing Decisions

George Osborne's budget must have gone well last week, because one of the main things Labour are making a point over is the fact that an Evening Standard employee broke embargo to tweet Budget information before Georgy Porgy got to his feet in the Commons. Naturally, it's hilarious to hear that according to politicians of both sides, nobody has ever intentionally leaked budget data before the actual budget. This is despite the fact that in the run up to most budgets various treasury insiders angling for a straw poll or ministers angling for public outcry at their budget being trimmed take the same approach to secrecy as your average C list celebrity selling the mundane details of their tawdry lives to glossy dentist reception magazines. But that's beside the point as it is perfectly normal to pre-release to news institutions with strict provisos and controls in place. That a Standard employee broke the embargo is a matter for the Standard and maybe the police. You can blame George for a lot of things I am sure, but this isn't one of them.

The thing that struck me about the commentary on the budget though was the pathetic language of the entire press corps, whatever their political colour (you don't see any red in the Torygraph and it's all you can see at the Peoples' Commissariat for Public Information - the BBC). It seems that no matter what the news, no matter how generous a budgetary move is, anyone who doesn't benefit from it muct be a victim or a loser.

For example they are all up in arms at the "discrimination" of choosing to put 10p more tax on wine but take 1p of beer. There is little talk of the fact that wine bars are doing just fine, as is the wine producing industry, and those who tend to drink more wine can probably live with the 10p increase. No talk of the fact that the lower financial echelons disproportionately drink more beer than the better off. Nope, when the stats aren't in our favour we ignore the class envy angle. Nor will you read much about the benefit (though 1p is more symbolic than financially meaningful) that our flagging pub industry will receive from this cut. The important one here is that women drink wine and men drink beer. So this cut in beer duty is... a discriminatory attack on women. You simply cannot win with this bunch of whining liars who seem to set out to deliberately misrepresent policy for a mix of profit and political propaganda.

Newsflash: As I have mentioned before, the word discriminate, means to choose, nothing more. That is the job of Government. They decide from whom they should take money and how much, then to whom they should give it and how much. Otherwise we could just have a system designed to extract a flat amount (or rate) of tax, and then to redistribute it evenly, so as nobody can be accused of making a choice, which by definition would be "discrimination". That would unfortunately put the cat amongst the 'fair tax' pigeons. It would also mean we may as well not pay the people to take and give back in equal measure, because their pay just reduces your rebate. Let's have no Government - it worked pretty well for Belgium.

Flippant yes, but the point is that Governments make decisions every day - it is what they are elected for - where they prioritise their many competing demands against their limited resources. Increasing funding for cancer research is not a vicious attack on all diabetes sufferers. Buying new science textbooks for a school is not a slap in the face of the teaching of humanities.

Unfortunately we continue to characterise all such funding decisions exactly so. Why? Because we are a nation of spoilt, selfish children. We cannot be happy for anyone else unless we get the same or more. Watching politicians, journalists and the general public discussing public spending is like watching a bunch of poorly brought up children fighting over who got more sweets, or complaining that the other kid gets all the presents on their birthday.

This is much like the talk of "real terms cuts" - when what we need are actual cuts. All these people talk about an increase in this benefit or that as a "real terms cut" because it is below the level of inflation. This again puts me in mind of a kid in a sweetshop. Every year the child grows, and its appetite with it - inflation. Mother hands out some of her hard earned cash to buy a bag of penny sweets, but as the years go by, and mother adds 5 pence to the bag per year, the child complains that the percentage its stomach is growing is larger than the percentage increase mother has gifted. In today's society, this means mother is evil. She is a horrible bitch who is starving her children - and should probably have them taken away from her. And even that analogy is without going into whether, if the child wants more sweets, it might be better off taking a milk or paper round rather than constantly demanding more from its mother...

We have NO MONEY - have we forgotten that? How short are our memories? Labour gave it all to their key demographic to ensure election victories and the exacerbation of most social ills during their time in power. Where did all that money go? Is anything tangibly better (apart from Tony Blair's bank balance, of course)? The Tories, fighting with one arm tied behind their backs thanks to having to pass everything by the bizarrely powerful, finanicially illiterate and very unpopular minority Lib Dems, have somehow allowed the press to say they are cutting deeply and we have real austerity in this country when we are actually increasing out debt and increasing our spending.

The result; no spare money to pay for growth policies like tax cuts because of such largesse and no votes at the polls because everyone believes they are slashing budgets left, right and Chelsea - the worst of both worlds. God, it's enough to wish Alastair Campbell was a Tory - this party are so poor at getting their message across, they couldn't sell water to a man dying of thirst in the desert.

Back to the point… even more furore has been kicked up over the new childcare tax rebate. I read everywhere of the unfairness to all stay at home mothers. Apparently this policy will penalise them.

Bollocks. Plain and simple.

If you stay at home, you don't need sodding childcare. That's your job. Women have campaigned, quite rightly, for homekeeping and childrearing to be considered a job and not a cop-out for the workshy. So how on earth, if you have decided that this will be your full time job, could you are you being unfairly penalised by not receiving something for which you have no need?

It is akin to an able bodied person complaining when an amputee receives a prosthetic limb that they don't also get one. They need that to bring them up to nearer your level. The key is, these whiners don't want the spare leg; they just want to stick it on eBay and pocket the cash. That's what this is about. The Government is rightly saying that the disgracefully high cost of childcare in this country is one of (if not the) biggest barriers to going back to work. So to help women, who as we all know are very under-represented in full time work (primarily because of this), they are giving a small helping hand back into work. What thanks do they get? They get greedy (and, yes, I do mean greedy) people complaining that that money should have been theirs rather than acknowledging a positive step in helping women back into employment and a much needed rebate to help defray the obvious costs of doing so.

It is shameful that a supposedly responsible media happily gives these people a prominent voice without even the hint of balance or even pragmatic and sound financial analysis. Even if there were enough money for Gordon Brown's style of dowsing voters in borrowed cash in return for votes but no progress, it is morally bankrupt as a policy. Instead, we are actually bankrupt by any normal standard which means there certainly isn't enough money for such profligacy.

We have to target the spending better - this is Government's job. Just as they were right that if one of you earns £60k (and therefore about 130% above the national average income; and as much as it would help and you'd like it), we cannot afford to give you child benefit, so they are right here. Yes, that means some people will get stuff you didn't get, and because it is too expensive to get everything perfect, it also means you can find seemingly unfair anomalies. But that shouldn't be the story - because ultimately you don't need it. Like people with two legs don't need spare prosthetic ones and stay at home mothers don't also need help paying for childcare. Childcare is crippling, and help is welcome for those who want or feel they need to go back to work and who can earn enough to make it worthwhile. Anyone who thinks it isn't is a spoilt brat.

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