70 per cent of the cost of cutting the personal allowance goes to the richest half of society

Income tax is quite progressive; better to cut VAT or council tax.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the 2013/2014 tax year, and one of the changes that's going through is the latest rise in the Personal Allowance, which is increasing from £8,105 to £9,440. The Tories are making a big thing of it, launching this poster campaign:

That's going to sting for the Liberal Democrats, who are desperate to claim the increased personal allowance as their legacy from this government. But the phrasing is interesting, and worth examining.

For this poster, the Conservatives have dropped their favourite claim of "2.7 million taken out of tax altogether". That's good, because as the FT's Chris Cook explains, it's not exactly true:

The poorest families are paying a lot more in indirect tax (VAT, fuel duty, booze taxes) than in direct tax (income tax, NICs, council tax). In fact, direct taxes only overtake indirect taxes in size when you hit the fifth decile.

If you look at the second decile of households by income, just over 10 per cent of the taxes they pay are income tax. The other 90 per cent of their tax burden – still over £4,000 a year – comes from various other taxes, principally council tax and VAT. Between them, those two taxes account for almost half the tax burden on that decile.

But while it might not be the case that the tax cut takes workers "out of tax", it certainly is a tax cut for 24 million people. But rather than being a positive, this is actually the biggest flaw in the policy. This chart, prepared by the Resolution Foundation (pdf), shows the distribution of that tax cut amongst houses of different incomes:

As the chart clearly shows, the families with the biggest cash gain are the third richest tenth in the country, who get £210 each; and the families with the biggest proportional gain are the fifth richest tenth, gaining an extra 0.61 per cent of their income.

Meanwhile, the poorest families barely benefit from the rise at all. That's unsurprising; you need to be earning at least £8,105 a year for the rise to help you in any way, and at least £9,440 to gain the full benefit. And in a household, that needs to be true of both earners – otherwise half the allowance is wasted.

The chart also lets us get an idea of the distribution of the costs of the rise. Almost exactly 70 per cent of the revenue being forfeit for the increase in the allowance comes from the richest half of the nation. Less than 1 per cent of the money actually goest to the poorest ten per cent in the country.

The truth is that income tax in Britain is already one of the most progressive taxes we've got. The poorest in the nation pay little, while the richest pay most of their tax in income tax. As a result, if you want to cut taxes to help the poor, you would be better off returning VAT to its old rate of 17.5 per cent or increasing – rather than reducing – the number of people exempt from council tax. If you want to cut taxes to help the rich, going after income tax is the right way to do it.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a united force.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will continue.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.