Will Osborne's 45p tax gamble pay off?

Despite the political riskiness of such a move, the 50p tax rate will be scrapped in this week's Bud

Since George Osborne became Chancellor in May 2010, the 50p rate of tax has been a political headache. Instinctively a low tax Conservative, he has been unable to cut the top rate of tax because of his commitment to deficit reduction and the difficulty of justifying such a move as people across the country face unemployment and pay freezes.

The extraordinarily public negotiations over Wednesday's Budget over the last few weeks have shown that scrapping the 50p rate is high on the agenda. Last week, it was suggested it could be slashed as low as 40p. Today, the Telegraph reports that it is going to be cut to 45p from April 2013.

Osborne's argument is that the tax undermines investment and entrepreneurship. The government will cite figures which show that the tax has not raised as much revenue as hoped. When Alistair Darling introduced the tax in 2009, it was predicted it would raise £2.6bn, but reportedly the figure is in the hundreds of millions. Osborne will claim that cutting the tax to 45p could in fact raise more money as less people will avoid it.

It is difficult to see this flying with the public. The fact remains that this is a very popular tax: the polls have consistently shown overwhelming public support for the 50p rate. Last September, YouGov found that 59 per cent wanted to keep the tax -- including 50 per cent of Tory voters -- while just 23 per cent overall wanted to scrap it. A ComRes poll found that 48 per cent would like to see it raised to 60p, while 33 per cent did not.

Most Liberal Democrats are likely to be uncomfortable with the move, which is to be offset with a so-called "tycoon tax" aimed at preventing tax avoidance. Nick Clegg will insist that the "rich will pay more" after the Budget, while the increase in the tax-free personal allowance is expected to be speeded up. The tax threshold was due to be raised to £10,000 from April 2015, but Osborne could indicate that this will be moved forward a year.

Yet for all these moves to neutralise it, cutting the 50p rate, which only affects those earning over £150,000, remains potentially explosive. Stephen Williams, co-chair of the Lib Dem Treasury committee, told the BBC yesterday: "I certainly don't think that now would be the right time to announce the abolition of the 50p or the reduction of the 50p rate of tax. 2012 is going to be quite a difficult year for many families up and down the country."

As my colleague George Eaton wrote last week, the attack lines for Labour write themselves. Tax cuts for the rich are a difficult sell at the best of times. When the rest of the country remains mired in economic strife, it looks like a political impossibility.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear