George Osborne holds freshly minted coins during a visit to the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales on March 25, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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"Tax Freedom Day" comes earlier for the rich than the poor

The day when someone in the richest 10 per cent stops contributing to tax is nearly a month earlier than someone in the poorest 10 per cent. 

Today the Adam Smith Institute is marking this year’s "Tax Freedom Day". For those unfamiliar with the concept, "Tax Freedom Day" is defined as "the day when average Britons stop working for the Chancellor and start working for themselves". In other words, tomorrow marks the day where every penny you earn goes straight into your pocket, and not to the pesky taxman. Sounds good right? Well it gets even better. This year your "freedom" comes three days earlier than last year, three whole days.

If you’re not cartwheeling round the room at this unexpected financial boon, it’s possible you’ve worked out that Tax Freedom Day is, in fact, utterly meaningless. The celebratory nature of the Day only highlights that it is an obvious and cynical wheeze, intended to frame tax, in all forms, as a malign force. Tax is no longer a mechanism to provide your children with an education, to protect you from illness, or to make sure the roads are paved. Instead it is an imposition, the government taking what is rightfully yours.

The concept of Tax Freedom Day becomes even more bizarre when you examine how it is measured. According to the Adam Smith Institute it is "calculated by comparing general government tax revenue with Net National Income (NNI). The total of all government tax revenue – direct and indirect taxes, local taxes and National Insurance contributions – is calculated as a percentage of NNI at market prices. This year it comes to 41.09%. That percentage is then converted to days of the year, starting from 1 January."

In other words, the date of Tax Freedom Day is found by determining the fraction of the UK economy "captured" by taxation. This fraction is then used to determine a date in the calendar that is an equivalent fraction of the year.

The question is, does this method work, and can it really measure when an "average taxpayer" can expect to be "free" of taxation? The answer is, not really. For a start, nations clearly don't pay personal income tax.

Despite this, a more relevant Tax Freedom Day can be worked out. More precisely, Tax Freedom Days can be worked out. Equality Trust analysis has found that when all taxes on income are taken into account, the richest 10 per cent pay 35 per cent of their income in taxes. However, the poorest 10 per cent actually pay more – 43 per cent. Taken as a fraction of the year, this means that the day someone in the richest 10 per cent stops contributing to tax, or their "Tax Freedom Day", is actually on 9 May. The poorest on the other hand are still waiting for their Tax Freedom Day, which will not come until 5 June, nearly a month after the richest 10 per cent. 

In this sense, Tax Freedom Day can actually teach us something. By at least one important measure, our tax system is still hopelessly regressive. People may not always find themselves hugely motivated by the prospect of paying tax, but it is an important and widely accepted part of our life. We pay tax to receive certain public services, many of which have a social value far greater than their financial cost. Tax Freedom Day seeks to pervert this obvious truth by convincing the public that tax only harms them, and that it can be avoided without cost. What we need is not to demonise all forms of taxation, but to have a clear and honest public debate on whether our tax system is fair, whether it protects the most vulnerable in society, and whether it really places the greatest burden on those with the broadest shoulders.

John Hood is media and communications manager at The Equality Trust, where this piece originally appeared. 

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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood