Dear Telegraph – I will TELL you when it’s class warfare
April 24, 2009
Yesterday’s Telegraph headline was “The Return of Class Warfare”. Apparently, the government’s decision to raise income tax on incomes over £150 000 to 50% is class warfare on par with Stalinist purges, etc.
Right now, if you make over £40 000, then you are in the top 10% of earners in the UK. So, those on £150 000 are a wealthy minority indeed. Taxing them 50% is not class warfare – it’s basic common sense.
On a 50% tax rate, you would still take home £75 000. £75 000!! I actually don’t know what I would do with that much money!! I mean, there’s only so many pairs of shoes a person can own. I love books – but you can only read so many at a time. Also, there are charity shops, as well as this new-fangled invention called ‘a library’. I like earrings, but I like cheap earrings I don’t have to worry about losing or breaking. I own one really nice pair of pearl earrings that my favourite aunt (and godmother) bought me when I got married, and a really nice necklace I bought myself for my wedding. And I wear them about once a year – they’re too nice to wear every day, they don’t match anything else I own, and I worry about losing them. I suppose I could buy a house, but there’s just me and my partner, no children, so there’s not much point in buying a very big house is there? Just more cleaning to do (by which I mean, for my poor put-upon partner to do, as I am a slob).
At some point, I think people are obliged, not just practically but also ethically, to ask themselves – how much do I really need? I’m not suggesting everyone should live a life of extreme asceticism. Have fun! Go to plays! Go on holiday! Buy that really nice pair of shoes!! But at some point, it has to be recognised that no one needs 34 pairs of shoes, and that apples from Waitrose taste the exact same as apples from Aldi. Having a 3 bedroom house when you live alone is actually immoral in a country where others are homeless.
I also think people who are making anywhere near £40K + are obliged to step back and recognise how lucky they are, financially (unless of course they are supporting 6 children with that one salary or something). My partner and I are both working, both making middle-class salaries, for the first time since we’ve met. Our combined income is about £40 K, and you know what – we’re doing really well. It’s a huge change from last year, when we were living on my salary alone (which worked out to both of us working full-time for less than minimum wage), and each heating bill was a major crisis. At the moment, if we weren’t trying to pay off our myriad debts before deflation sets in, we’d have ludicrous amounts of disposable income. I’d be able to actually buy stuff at Monsoon instead of just looking longingly through the window (not a lot of stuff, mind you). So when a couple in The Guardian talks about struggling to get buy on twice as much – I’m sorry, but my sympathy is limited.
With all the panic about the Recession, there’s very little concern for the people who are going to be hurt the most. There is this weird disjuncture between the “money-saving tips” found in The Guardian and the rash of new budget books, and the actual lives of a lot of people in the UK. Most of the “money-saving tips” are things I’ve been doing my entire adult life, out of economic necessity at first, and then later, out of a dislike of waste. Of course you should plan out your meals for the week and then draw up a grocery list, rather than just buying food at random. Not only will you save money, but you won’t waste food.
But there are a lot of people who have either been doing this already, or for whom this is already extravagant – people who go to Asda, buy whatever is on sale, and then work out what can be made with it, even if it’s not terribly nutritious. They can’t cut back anymore, not without giving up food, or heating. There’s a phrase used in Toronto to describe the situation of people on minimum wage or benefits – “Pay the rent OR feed the kids.”
There is nothing in this budget that is going to really help those people – child benefit has gone up a pathetic £20/year.
So yes, if you make £150 000/year – you should be paying at least 50% tax. Outside of London, if you make £40 000/year, you are comfortably upper middle class (and in London, comfortably middle class). If you are making more than £20 000 and you have no children, then you are doing better than at least half the country.
Actual class warfare would involve massive redistributions of wealth, so that no one is wondering how they’re going to make rent this month. It would involve a mainstream media that recognises that going out for dinner once a week instead of twice a week is not a “money-saving tip” if you’re struggling to pay for groceries. And it would involve all of us who are middle-class seriously reconsidering our priorities, and recognising the difference between “want” and “need.”