Wednesday, 12 FEBRUARY 2014

Taxes have been around forever. They date back to the Bronze Age when HMRC staff taxed Celtic metal-working and agriculture to fund the causeway across the North Channel.

More recently, two years ago there were heated exchanges south of the border as the deadline for the Irish Government's €100 household charge was fast approaching. Opposition TDs, councillors and trade unionists urged people to boycott the payment, and it's not hard to understand why.

Regardless of whether you were living in a mansion or a crap bungalow girt by concrete, your household still had to pay €100. It was in no way linked to ability to pay. If you were using a moral compass on this, in boom times the needle would be off north, but for workers struggling through a recession it would be spinning in circles as subjects try to escape the influence of resident witchcraft while filming themselves on shaky cam.

At the same time across the pond, Tory finance minister George Osborne announced a
reduction to the income tax rate of high earners, concurrent with an attack on disabled people's welfare that was so vile that even Satan was scratching his goatee in disbelief. Perhaps even more surprisingly, that Bill drew over half a dozen rejections in the House of Lords.

This train rattles on with the Tories rolling out a predictable diatribe against Labour’s plan to restore the 50p tax rate, with the trickle-down effect representing the neighbourhood bogeyman that Reagan talked about but no one has ever seen.

Tax should be based on ability to pay. Instead, in the UK we play musical chairs with people ending up sitting on seats shaped for those with more girth (of the financial kind).

The country may claim to be a lower taxing state but meanwhile it charges all kinds of indirect taxes like National Insurance contributions, property rates, annual car taxes, sizeable levies on fuel, and even something as ridiculous as a TV license fee to watch free-to-air television.

Seriously, a fee to watch state TV. What? I pay it because I'm a patriot, but the numbers of people you hear about who refuse to pay as they nervously dim the lights and jump when their nanna raps the door on a Sunday with her key lime pie is astounding. Just pay for it from direct tax to the public purse.

Indirect tax is unfair as long as it’s not based on ability to pay. Take for example someone who works in home care, driving from house to house providing care at home for the elderly and some of the most vulnerable in our society. The worker is likely to be a woman, and may be working for a private company, paid the minimum wage, not reimbursed for fuel costs incurred on the job, not guaranteed any hours in her contract if she even has one, and not provided appropriate training in order to do the job safely and confidently. And that’s without some recalcitrant making off with her car in Finaghy.

No reimbursement for fuel costs effectively means she is earning less than the minimum wage, yet she still has to pay similar high fuel costs, car tax, car insurance, property rates and TV licensing fee that high income earners do. An unfair scenario any way you look at it, unless you're a hair-piece high on the crack of casino capitalism.

And not even the vulnerable elderly receiving the care are protected, with this race to the bottom resulting in a
shocking decline in care standards. And the Northern Ireland Executive wants more of it - its Compton Review suggests saving money by taking work from reputable public operators and outsourcing it to a market featuring “too many agencies involved … who simply aren’t meeting the standards”.

We need to learn from our mistakes of late and start pursuing fairer tax. This means reforming our tax system to minimise indirect tax, raise revenue by fair and progressive income tax, and pursue tax evasion with an aggressive and well-funded strategy. It will mean a fairer society for all. And maybe a new causeway to Scotland.

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