Five questions answered on RBS’s positive quarterly profit results

Investors react.

The bank that was famously bailed out in the 2008 financial crisis has posted its best quarterly profits for over a year. We answer five questions on RBS’s latest figures.

How much pre-tax profit has the bank made?

The bank has made a pre-tax profit of £826m, this is compared to a £1.5bn loss in the same period in 2012 and a £2.2bn loss in the final quarter of last year.

What has been the bank’s response to these positive results?

In a video statement on the bank’s website, Chairman Sir Philip Hampton said he expects the government to start selling shares in the bank from the middle of 2014, or possibly earlier, so the bank can return to privatisation.

He said any such sale would be "terrific for the country".

The government owns an 82 per cent stake in the bank after it bailed it out in 2008.

What else did Hampton say?

"Our balance sheet is substantially fixed... our operating profitability has come through quite strongly," he said.

"What we want to do is have a business that is performing well... enabling the government to start selling shares from, let's say, the middle of 2014 on - it could be earlier, that's a matter for the government - but certainly we think the recovery process will be substantially complete in about a year or so's time."

If the government sold its shares in the next year or so would they be getting a good deal?

It’s not known how much the government would sell its stake for, but currently, RBS shares are valued at 407 pence a share on the government's accounts. However, the government paid 502 pence a share during the bailout.

According to the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, this suggests the Chancellor, George Osborne, could opt to sell at the lower price and still claim to be getting fair value for the 82 per cent taxpayer stake.

This would result in a return to shareholders after the government invested billions in the bank five years ago.

How have investors reacted to the quarterly results?

Despite Hampton’s optimism, investors have reacted negatively, with RBS shares falling more than 4.5 per cent in the first 10 minutes of trading on the London Stock Exchange.

RBS. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Taxation without benefits: how our tax system increases inequality

We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Tax may not be the burning issue on everyone’s minds over the next month, but the Panama Papers leak has proven that the thorny issues of who pays what, and what level of tax is fair, are ones that are never too far away from the public consciousness.

One of the most important annual publications on tax is the Office for National Statistics’ Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income. Published today, it shows, among other things, the proportion of income paid in tax by people at different points on the income spectrum. This may sound like the natural domain of the data nerd, but it actually tells us some rather interesting facts about our system of taxes and benefits.

First, the good news. Our much maligned welfare system is in fact a beacon of progressiveness, drastically reducing the level of income inequality we see in this country. In fact, overall, taxes and benefits are quite substantially redistributive. Without them, the income of the richest 20 per cent of households would be 14 times higher than the poorest 20 per cent. With them, that gap falls to only four times.

The benefit system as a whole decreases the Gini coefficient, the most frequently used measure of inequality, by 14 percentage points. For anyone who sees taxes and benefits as a key component in reducing economic inequality, or boosting the incomes of the poorest, or, frankly, tackling social injustice, this is rather welcome news.

But now for the bad news.

While our welfare system is undoubtedly progressive, the same cannot be said of our tax system when looked at in isolation. The poorest face a disproportionately heavy tax burden compared to the richest, paying 47 per cent of their income in tax, compared to just 34 per cent for the richest. Last year (2013/14) this difference was 45 per cent – 35 per cent, and the year before (2012/13) the gap was 43 per cent – 35 per cent. So while the proportion of income paid in tax has fallen slightly for the richest, it has increased for the poorest.

While some taxes like income tax are substantially progressive, those such as VAT and Council Tax are not. Even after adjusting for rebates and Council Tax Benefit, the poorest 10 per cent pay 7.1 per cent of their income in council tax while the richest 10 per cent pay only 1.5 per cent.

Should this matter, if our system of benefits continues to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Well, yes, not least because that system is under severe pressure from further cuts. But there are other good reasons to focus on the tax system in isolation from the benefit system.

Polling by Ipsos MORI has shown that the public believes that the tax system by itself reduces inequality, and it is often spoken of by politicians as if that is the case. We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax, for example, when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Understanding why the tax system does not by itself reduce inequality is therefore important for both thinking about how tax revenues could be better raised, and for understanding the importance of the benefit system in narrowing the gap between the richest and the poorest.

John Hood is Acting Director of the Equality Trust