Which countries have the highest top tax rates?

A top rate of 50% would be above the OECD average but Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands all have higher rates.

Based on the neuralgic reaction of some business leaders and politicians to Labour's proposal to reintroduce the 50p tax rate, you might assume that the UK will become a pariah state if the measure is introduced. But how radical a move would it really be? For comparison, I've listed the top income tax rates (as of 2012) in the rest of the OECD below. 

As the figures show, while a top rate of 50 per cent would be significantly higher than the average of 42.5 per cent it is far from the highest. Denmark, Sweden and Belgium (hardly socialist backwaters) are among the six countries with higher rates, while Austria and Japan also have a top rate of 50p. 

And while plenty have accused Labour of "returning to the 1970s", a top rate of 50 per cent would be far from the top rate of 83 per cent (98 per cent on "unearned income") seen under Jim Callaghan. Even Margaret Thatcher managed to live with a top rate of 60 per cent for nine years of her premiership before Nigel Lawson reduced it to 40 per cent in his 1988 Budget. And, mercifully for the rich, Ed Balls has already said that there is "absolutely" no chance of Labour raising the rate beyond 50p. 

Top marginal tax rate

Denmark 60.2%

Sweden 56.6%

Belgium 53.7% 

Spain 52.0%

Netherlands 52.0% 

France 50.7%

Austria 50.0%

Japan 50.0%

Greece 49.0%

Finland 49.0%

Portugal 49.0%

Italy 48.6% 

Canada 48.0%

Ireland 48.0%

Israel 48.0% 

Australia 47.5% 

Iceland 46.2% 

United States 41.9% 

South Korea 41.8% 

Switzerland 41.7% 

Luxembourg 41.3%

Slovenia 41.0% 

Chile 40.0% 

Norway 40.0% 

Turkey 35.7% 

New Zealand 33.0%

Poland 32.0% 

Mexico 30.0% 

Estonia 21.0% 

Slovakia 19.0% 

Hungary 16.0% 

Czech Republic 15.0%

Average rate 42.5%

At 56.6%, Sweden has the second highest top tax rate in the world. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.