LISTENING to politicians, whether from Labour or the Tories, one could easily get the impression that the UK is a high-tax country, but the reality paints a different picture. Compared to other major European economies, the UK is actually an outlier.

Both of the leading political parties advocate for financing public services through tax revenue generated from economic growth and higher GDP, rather than raising taxes. Both parties have said British workers and businesses are struggling under a tax “burden” that is supposedly at its highest level in decades.

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Yes, the UK is collecting more taxes in total compared to the mid-1960s, but when you look at it relatively, the country still has relatively low taxes. In fact, the British tax-to-GDP ratio is more than seven percentage points lower than major European countries.

Currently, schools are on the brink of collapse, public services are struggling, and an unacceptable number of children are living in poverty.

It is clear that something is seriously wrong in the UK.

But what is truly frustrating is the reluctance, particularly from the left side of politics, to have honest conversations about taxes and how they can be the lifeline for essential services and common goods. It is a crucial discussion this country can’t afford to avoid any longer.

Recently, Anas Sarwar stated that Scottish Labour have a “presumption against any increases in income tax.” He argued that income tax has been used as a substitute for economic growth, which is hurting families in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

This follows shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves rolling back on commitments from UK Labour regarding a wealth tax and higher income tax rates if the party comes to power in Westminster.

Taxes alone cannot be a panacea for all our problems, but we must acknowledge their role in funding essential public services and infrastructure. We need to move beyond depoliticising this debate and address the issue of fair taxation, ensuring that everyone contributes their fair share.

It is time to dispel misconceptions and foster a more informed and constructive dialogue on this matter. The demagogy needs to stop because it is hurting us all too much.

Let’s revisit the situation in France during its last socialist government, where the then economy minister, Pierre Moscovici, claimed, just over a year after they came back to power, that the French people were “fiscally fed up”. However, this assertion didn’t align with the actual data.

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In fact, fiscal consent in France stands at more than 80%, indicating a substantial level of acceptance for taxation. What is true, though, is that more than two-thirds of the population feel that privileged individuals and big businesses are not paying their fair share of taxes.

The minister’s remarks provoked frustration among some socialists, as they perceived this rhetoric as undermining the potential for implementing an ambitious agenda to restore public services, improve education, healthcare, and justice.

The French Inequalities Observatory played a crucial role in dismantling the notion that the French were indeed fed up with taxes. They emphasised the role of the media in perpetuating this idea, which, once again, did not align with the factual reality. This situation eventually led to the socialists announcing a temporary halt in tax reforms a few months later.

It is essential for people to realise what they are potentially missing out on when they get caught up in the often shallow and misguided tax debates. Take France, for example; yes, people do pay relatively high taxes and social contributions. However, these contributions translate into substantial benefits.

In France, I was able to access nursery education practically free of charge. All children can start school at the age of three, and the most I ever paid for a year of university education was 300 euros. I didn’t start my adult life with thousands of euros of debt. I never had to worry about paying for prescription glasses or dental care.

Moreover, the robust social safety nets in countries with higher taxation ensure that pensioners can maintain a decent standard of living without the need for additional pension plans. State pensions provide a reliable safety net, ensuring that people have a roof over their heads and a sense of security in their retirement.

So, while the tax debates may sometimes seem frustrating or complex, it is crucial to recognise the tangible benefits they can bring in terms of quality of life, access to education, healthcare, and social security.

In contrast, the prevailing sentiment in the UK seems to be that taxes are burdensome and unnecessary. This mindset hampers our collective well-being. While it is understandable that individuals desire to retain more of their hard-earned income, it is equally important to recognise the vital role taxes play in funding public services and infrastructure.

To address these challenges, we must re-frame the tax debate. Instead of solely focusing on reducing taxes, we should emphasise fair taxation to ensure everyone contributes proportionally. This requires a comprehensive evaluation of our tax system, closing loopholes, preventing tax evasion, and crucially, shifting the focus towards taxing wealth rather than just work.

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There is indeed a substantial pool of wealth in this country that can be tapped into, and it is puzzling that Labour seem hesitant to explore these avenues.

Strategically, it appears that Labour’s reluctance to champion higher taxes may be an attempt to avoid providing an easy attack line to the Tories, who could accuse them of economic irresponsibility and “shaking the magic money tree”.While avoiding such accusations may seem like a prudent political move, it also leaves Labour vulnerable to criticism from pro-independence advocates in Scotland. By appearing too similar to the Tories on fiscal matters, Labour risk alienating those who seek a distinct alternative.

This delicate balancing act in policy positioning could have consequences for the party’s electoral prospects, as they could be seen as struggling to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives.

But it’s not just about technical tax reform. We must also educate the public about the benefits of taxes. By highlighting their positive impact on public services, infrastructure, and social welfare, we can foster a greater understanding of their value and cultivate a sense of collective responsibility.

Addressing tax fairness is crucial in restoring public trust and confidence in the government. The perception that privileged individuals with massive assets and businesses aren’t paying their fair share undermines the social contract between citizens and the state.

By ensuring everyone contributes fairly, the government can demonstrate its commitment to creating a more equitable society.