TAX burden, tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax freedom day, council tax freeze; the debate about the paying and the use of tax is almost always debated in pejorative terms. The “sweetheart” deals of big corporations simply add to the belief that taxes are there to be avoided by everyone – “if the big guys get away with it, why should I pay?” is the voice I hear often.
Which is extraordinary given that our quality of life is directly connected to the amount of taxes we collectively pay. The enforcement of rules about cleanliness of the air we breathe, the roads we drive on, the rules about safety in our workplaces, the hospitals we use, the schools which educate the next generation and so very much more, are all available to us only through the use of taxes.
Taxes are not, as some would have us believe, some form of economic transaction where we are “buying” services individually. Nor are they some kind of evidence of government unjustly invading our wage packet or the consequence of there being too many “benefit scroungers” or asylum seekers.
Taxes are how we take care of each other. They are how we love not just our neighbour but the stranger and even our enemy. They are how we build strong safe communities, stand by the vulnerable, enable our children to flourish and older people to have the support they need. They are also how we ensure the economy has the infrastructure it needs to flourish.
We can debate the choices made about how they are spent by those we elect. But the answer to disagreements we have about their choices is to elect someone else or to get elected ourselves. The answer is not to say we need to pay less tax. Reducing the tax available to the public purse will make those choices worse, not better.
If ever we needed to increase the size of the public purse it is now. Everyone who ends up homeless costs the public purse a minimum of £20,000 before they are rehoused. Every child who ends up without a positive destination after school costs a minimum of that same public purse £21,000 before they find somewhere to go. Every person in hospital who can’t go home because there is no care package costs up to £5000 a week. Spending public money to help folk before they end up in these situations will save money, but more importantly it saves lives. It’s time we started telling the truth about tax, it may just save our lives one day.
• Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians