Borrowing figures show how Osborne allowed thousands to avoid 50p tax rate

The spike in tax receipts was caused by individuals deferring income and bonuses to benefit from the new 45p rate, not a surge in earnings.

The latest borrowing figures are being trumpeted by the Tories as evidence of the success of George Osborne's economic plan, with tax receipts up by 7% compared to last year. But what they won't mention is that this spike has more to do with high earners avoiding the 50p tax rate than it does with any rise in earnings. By deferring income and bonuses from 2012 until this year to take advantage of the new 45p rate, taxpayers have caused a £2.9bn increase in receipts. But with earnings growth of just 0.7% in the most recent month, it's far from certain that this improved trend will continue. 

As the OBR notes in its commentary on the figures: 

Growth in both income tax and NICs for the year-to-date is above the full year forecasts, but this largely reflects the fact that receipts in the first few months of the year benefited from the deferral of some income/bonuses to take advantage of the reduction of the additional rate of income tax to 45p and some temporary effects in non-PAYE income tax. Prospects for PAYE and NIC receipts growth will depend on the feed-through from the low growth in average weekly earnings in the latest data.
The IFS similarly warns
It is important to note that some of the strong growth in receipts observed earlier in the year may not be expected to persist for the rest of the financial year, as it may be the result of some high income individuals pushing part of their income from last year into the beginning of this tax year in order to take advantage of the reduction in the higher rate of income tax.
And with individuals paying tax at 45p, rather than 50p, the Exchequer is left out of pocket. Osborne's stated justification for abolishing the 50p rate was that, due to mass avoidance, it raised "just a third of the £3bn" expected. But while it's true that £16bn of income was shifted into the previous tax year  - when the rate was still 40p - this was a trick the rich could only have played once. And as the government has acknowledged on other occasions, tax avoidance isn't an argument for cutting tax, it's an argument for stopping avoidance. 
 
Having falsely claimed that the (anomalous) first year of the 50p rate proved that it was ineffective, the Tories are now using the (anomalous) first year of the 45p rate to argue that they were right to scrap it. We'll never know how much the 50p rate would actually have raised - and that is just as Osborne intended. 
 
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said: "It’s significant that the OBR has pointed out that very high earners delayed their bonuses to take advantage of David Cameron’s top rate tax cut.

"While this artificially boosts this year’s borrowing figures, overall the Treasury will have lost millions of pounds as a result of the highest earners deferring income to pay tax at a lower rate."

"This is yet more proof that David Cameron stands up for the wrong people. While those at the top are reaping the benefits of a huge tax cut, ordinary people on middle and low incomes are seeing their living standards fall."

George Osborne speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue