The Green Party is today launching a call for a wealth tax. Photo: Getty
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A wealth tax can help deliver real change for the common good

The Green party's leader Natalie Bennett announces a new policy: an annual wealth tax to combat inequality in Britain.

Inequality in Britain today has many faces.

It’s the school pupil, fleeing the bedroom that she has to share with a younger sibling in an overcrowded home, struggling to do her homework in a noisy, crowded library in the one-hour rationed computer slot available, while her classmate sits in her private study in her multimillion-pound family home, using the latest iPad with the help of a private tutor.

It’s the young man, who did everything right, got the 2:1 university degree, the first in his family, forked out for the expensive Master’s, who’s now working in a pub on weekends to fund another unpaid internship, while his fellow intern is relying on the bank of Mum and Dad, free to socialise and network in every spare moment.

The gaps are getting bigger and bigger. The financial crisis, quantitative easing, this government’s harsh and unfair cuts to benefits – the whole approach of austerity - are pushing Britain further in this direction, past Twenties levels of inequality and on towards Victorian levels.

And the key trend of the past decade – both here in Britain and around the world is that the super-rich have got richer. The 1 per cent have been soaring away from the rest, while the middle stagnates and the poorest fall backwards. That’s what led Thomas Picketty to call for a global wealth tax, and what’s left the poorest 20 per cent of the British population living in conditions closer to their compatriots in Slovenia and the Czech Republic than France and Germany.

The gap between rich and poor, and the super-rich and the rest, is a social problem. And it’s an economic problem – the super-rich can’t keep an economy going with purchases of yachts and gold-plated taps. When you’ve got the IMF and World Bank (hardly institutions known to their commitment to fairness) expressing concern about the impacts of inequality, it’s clear there is a problem.

It’s a problem on a global scale, but we can start to tackle it here in Britain, the seventh most unequal country in the OECD, where the problem is visible and obvious from the oligarch-ridden streets of Chelsea to the struggling high streets of Northern England.

That’s why the Green Party is today launching a call for a wealth tax.

We’re proposing a 1 per cent-2 per cent annual tax on the richest 1 per cent of people in Britain – those with wealth of over £3m. They’re people doing really well from our society: the richest 1 per cent of people take 13 per cent of our country’s total income.

It’s part of a package of measures that will be included in our fully costed 2015 manifesto, which will also include a call for a Living Wage, pay ratios for companies so that the highest-paid worker isn’t paid more than 10 times the lowest paid, a land value tax to replace council tax and business rates, a more progressive income tax system and a raising of the corporate tax rate back towards global standards. 

Our wealth tax would affect about 300,000 people, and the annual cost to them would be £30,000 to £60,000. Most of them would comfortably afford it; assuming a 5% return on their wealth, £150,000, they’d only be paying around a 20% effective tax rate. For the relatively small number in this group with a single illiquid asset, such as a house, and relatively low income, special arrangements could be made to put off tax payments.

Such a wealth tax would raise £21bn to £43bn a year – about 15% of the cost of the NHS: a significant sum that wouldn’t transform the national budget, but would certainly have a significant impact on it.

This is a relatively new idea in Britain, but not globally – France, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland all have wealth taxes, and there’s evidence of public support here from a YouGov survey in 2010 that found 74 per cent of people were in favour of a wealth tax at ten times the rate we’re proposing.

We need real change in Britain, to really start to rebalance our society so that it works for the common good, not just the 1 per cent. A wealth tax is a measure who’s time has come, and I’m proud that the Green Party, with its growing support and growing membership, is putting it on the national agenda.

Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green party.

 

See more:

The Greens may become a force to be reckoned with (21 July 2014)

Without older voters the Greens have little hope (22 July 2014)

 

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and a former editor of Guardian Weekly.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era