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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Would you pay more tax for better services?
UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has set out plans to raise taxes to boost spending on the National Health Service in his Budget speech to the House of Commons.
National Insurance payments will rise by 1% on all earnings above £4,600, with the extra money for the NHS coming hand-in-hand with more scrutiny of how it was spent, the chancellor told MPs.
Mr Brown said: "It is right that everyone who benefits from the insurance provided by the NHS... should make a fair contribution."
How do you feel about the prospect of paying extra tax? Is it worth it to fund increases in health service spending, and boost investment in schools, transport and other public services?
Or is the state taking enough, or too much, of our income already?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Dr Keith Collins, UK
We've given this government billions for the NHS, why can't it admit defeat and allow people to opt out of the NI scheme and get private medical insurance. It's only government run operations where we can't have a say. If I receive bad service in a restaurant I would complain or not return, but we're stuck with our hospitals whether we're happy with them or not.
We spend most of our time complaining about the NHS being bad, rail being bad, everything being bad. But when someone comes up with the suggestion that we pay for it all with increased taxes we complain about this too. France and Germany pump billions more into their health services and transportation and they get what they pay for. Britain, being in the top five of industrialised nations, should be paying higher taxes to fund the kind of services that we should have. Something to actually be proud of - but I would add that Germany is looking to the UK in order to change the way it manages its health service. Bottom line - more taxes to fund a change to the country's services.
If politicians were honest, they wouldn't call NI income tax NI. Raising NI is the same as raising income tax for many people. It's all window dressing and deception.
Anonymous, London, UK
An emphatic no. I believe that freedom of choice is characteristic of a modern 21st century democracy, and resent being obliged through tax and NI to pay for a state-controlled health service which offers neither access, choice nor excellence. I work in the NHS as a consultant - knowing how inefficient and bureaucratically hidebound it is, I am convinced of its institutionalised wastefulness, and of its inevitable demise. This is a health service that cannot even recognise its own sell-by date. It is an anachronistic relic of a socialist past, rigidly run from the top down in a centrally-planned Stalinist way. Britain is the only modern first world state I know where people tolerate such a scandalously third-rate health service. I am embarrassed to admit to foreigners that I work in the NHS - it is a source of national shame. Like socialism and communism, the NHS ideal is laudable, but it simply doesn't work. Tax me less and I shall sort out my own health insurance; I'm a big boy now and I can handle it myself, without a nanny.
There is no doubt what I require from the government. I want a clear and uncluttered statement from Mr Brown that NHS taxes will be ringfenced.
I spend more in tax than pretty much everything else combined including my mortgage, food car, holidays, private medical insurance, utilities, clothes and dentist. So what do I get for my money? Roads - not really given the number of pot holes that have been breeding in the ones I drive on. Better public transport links then. No again - if I took the bus into work (and I've tried) I would spend two hours in transit each day - and I live three miles from work. There are no trams or trains even though I live in a popular suburban part of a large provincial city.
OK, medical and dental then - I've tried the NHS -enough said - I actually feel unsafe in their waiting rooms!
Police - one car and three radios stolen - I've got four crime numbers and nail down everything. I have however been stopped and fined by the police for doing 80mph on a dual carriageway when there were no junctions or other cars on the road.
I like the idea of a Royal Family; one day I hope to have children and they will need an education. Oh and I get my bins collected. All this for over £30k a year in tax.
If I could see a benefit I wouldn't mind paying it but I see very little. I voted Labour last time - Mr Blair your time is running out. Taxing me more will make the clock tick faster.
Steve Vogt, UK
Two things; what is national insurance supposed to be for and why can't we have the option of paying it or not? I am all for paying income tax but do not see why I should pay national insurance. If I wish to go private and not use NHS hospitals at all, why should I have to pay national insurance? By the time I retire state pensions will probably not be available so why am I paying national insurance?
My suggestion is to have a fat cat super bonus tax. Company directors who get given these huge six figure bonuses should have to pay 80% of that figure to the revenue.
My father recently died in hospital after a long illness. I cannot and will not condemn any of the medical staff who gave him the best care and attention that was possible. I don't feel he would have had any better in a private hospital. But what does enrage me about the NHS is the fact that these same nurses and doctors are working under-resourced. As he was cremated there were no flowers and we asked for donations instead to be used to fund something in the ward where he passed away. I was amazed to find that the collection would possibly be used to buy nebulisers - surely this is basic medical equipment that should be funded from our taxes and national insurance? I am in favour of increasing taxes as long as it can be separated and isolated from the rest of the tax we pay to ensure that it goes to the NHS. It is time we took a long hard look at the way we manage the NHS and suggest an independent body be set up to this end to ensure that we get value for money and to take the control away from then government.
No. For the simple reason that I pay enough for the health service (and other things) as it is - the problem is that the government is not spending it correctly. Why would I want to give someone who squanders my money even more money for them to waste?
There IS enough money around for an excellent health service (and also for excellent schools for that matter) but the welfare state culture that has been allowed to explode out of control here is to blame for the funds not being where they should be. I am sick of paying for council housing, benefits, council tax relief and other hand-outs to women who continue to have babies by different fathers without any due thought to their responsibilities. Gone are the days when national insurance contributions from salaries were used solely for the purpose of funding the NHS. Now it's used to provide a whole menu of benefits to those who cannot be bothered with work.
I've lived in the US for the past 20 years - ten of those in New York. I recently returned to live and work in London - with the same company.
I am astounded at the prices of the most basic daily requirements such as food and travel expenses.
Income levels are low and grossly underpaid, while being taxed more than most at every opportunity.
Tax people who make more because they always have more financial options than the national average, while increasing benefits to those who are unable to work or who have already put in their fair share such as pensioners.
A Walker, England
The problems in the NHS are so deep-seated that it will not be solved by extra revenue in the short term. Labour will learn this to their cost when tax rises do not result in the improvement in service we all wish to see. A free universal health service is no longer viable and as a nation we need to decide what we want and how to fund it in alternate ways.
Let's just get this straight. Total tax collected in 1997 was £270 billion. Total tax collected in 2001 was £400 billion, an increase of about 50%. We have already suffered massive increases - but this government wants even more. High tax, waste and inefficiency, the watchwords of Labour. Public services need proper reform - throwing more and more money into the bottomless pit will not work.
The government is already taking too much in taxes. We are taxed on earnings, savings, pensions and through VAT. Pensioners should receive tax-free pensions - we have already paid our dues, and we will be contributing for many years to come in other ways through spending. If one were 'wise' enough to invest in a second private pension, we are penalised with an even higher rate. Pensioners on income support receive almost as much as those who do not claim any benefits. They are exempt from paying council tax and in many cases rent. I do not begrudge them this but surely this cannot be right when all of us struggle on the paltry sum we receive after tax.
Neil Cary, UK
Surely, there must be a realisation that a growing number of people are really fed up with calls for increased taxes when they cannot afford them and cannot see any benefit or changes on what has already been shelled out? There are already cries of increased numbers of people in debt not through mismanagement but because they have less in real terms to spend. One has to review all the increases in fuel, taxes, general shopping, insurance payments on cars and homes, poll-tax and everything else including the stealth taxes that have been issued. More people are tightening their belts and others are resorting to crime.
Can you afford to become sick?
I would not be willing to accept a single tax change or rise until the government assures me that it has developed a system to ensure that the tax paid already is not being unnecessarily lost through hidden rules and regulations. There is absolutely no point in hiking taxes to pay for the NHS when a significant cut of the tax paid already gets lost in fulfilling the mass of strangling rules. The money just doesn't get through this impenetrable mesh of Labour bureaucracy. Raising taxes without confronting the true problems of wastage is adding to the problem rather than solving it.
Andy Harkins, Scotland
It amazes me that people debate the rights and wrongs of a little more tax while happily allowing themselves to be ripped off by the many manufacturers who over inflate consumer prices to the unsuspecting and uncomplaining British public.
Having saved nearly £4,000 by buying an ordinary family car abroad last year, yes I would be happy to pay more tax because I believe the people who are really hitting my disposable income are not the government of whichever flavour today but the manufacturers to whom this country is known as a treasure island where they can get away with extorting more money than from any other European consumer!
That's why people abroad can pay more tax and get the better services we envy so much.
This debate should not be about how much more tax we pay but how much more we pay for everything.
Things aren't nearly as bad the tabloid press (and the Tories) would have us believe. The NHS, for example, costs less to run as a proportion of our national income than any other system and could be the flagship system of the world. Not too ideologically convenient for some people though, is it? Those whingeing higher rate taxpayers should go somewhere else if they don't like it here - God knows most of them sound as if they can afford it. Go and live in Germany; better services but oh, what a surprise, higher taxes! Or go to the US; very low taxes, but oh, what a surprise, plenty of defence and government spending but no public services, so make sure you insure yourself well and can afford to educate your children privately. Too many people are still buying into the Tory myth that you can have world class services and low taxes; just give me one example of a country where this is so and even I might consider going to live there!
I pay an awful lot of money in taxes of one sort or another. I would not object to paying more if it were to actually do some good. The sad fact is that since the Chancellor came to office he has continually raised taxes year on year and we have seen no benefit of this. I am fortunate that with my job I could live (almost) anywhere, if taxes keep rising as do waiting lists, then I will definitely move to a lower tax/higher efficiency country as a significant number of my workmates have now done.
There have been a lot of complaints about "high" taxes. Also how the NHS has collapsed under New Labour. As any first year economics student knows very well, for a change to take place in a country's economy, it takes 10-15 years, so the state of the public services in the UK are the results of actions in the 1980s. During that period tax was shifted from a graduated income tax to indirect taxation, so-called stealth taxes. In 1979 the overall tax burden on an average earner was 27%, by 1997 it was 39%. Fuel duty rose from 44% to 80%. VAT was doubled. Now we have the ludicrous situation where the less someone earns, the greater percentage of their income goes in tax, and vice versa.
Someone from France has pointed out that if one pays higher taxes, one gets better public services; France, according to the correspondent, who has the best NHS system in the world. The high earners in the UK who can get away with paying no tax here would not find it easy to do it in any other country! It's just the suckers at the bottom of the pile who are actually paying the tax of the fabulously wealthy!
The UK population is ageing rapidly, and new drugs and treatments are ever more expensive, so we will have to raise taxes if we are even going to halt the decline in the NHS. However, the government's PFI financing rules are forcing NHS managers into long term contracts with private development companies who are creaming off profits of hundreds of millions of pounds of unjustified profits straight out of taxpayers' pockets. I will be happy to pay more for the NHS once the government unilaterally cancels these contracts without compensation following the Railtrack model. I live in hope that I will not die untreated.
What a waste of MY money! All this extra investment is only likely to be consumed in improving the incomes of those companies who supply the NHS and possibly salaries. Cut the rubbish out of the service, no tattoo removals, no cosmetic surgery etc.
I pay MORE than enough tax already without bowing to politicians who only want to keep in power. New Labour - more like New Conservative!
As a member of the armed forces, I am getting sick and fed up of increases in taxes as well as stealth taxes and charges that are paid by servicemen for accommodation and food going up by the rate of inflation or above it. Then with the same hand being given a miserly 3% pay rise every year, and being expected to put our lives on the line with an increasing number of operations overseas and emergency work carried out at home.
I work as a town planner for a west London borough council. It is annoying to hear people complaining about the level of services they want from public bodies when the whole culture since the 1980s has been to invest less in these bodies - at the same time as public expectations of their level of services have risen.
Having said that, more money is not the sole answer. Better top-level management of local authorities is needed so that we can actually offer the dynamic responsive services that everyone wants.
Alan Pengelly, UK
Yes, I would pay more tax for better public services - provided that the Chancellor announces the abolition of tax loopholes, such as non-domicile status, which allow the fabulously wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.
Like some of the above, I was in the 40% tax bracket, until my husband was very seriously injured in a car accident. I never objected to my high rate of tax, I was fortunate to earn such money and did not object to paying it. My husband was in hospital for six months and to be honest I though that most of the treatment and hospitals were below par. I would have gladly paid more in tax, and would do again. This "I pay enough" is an "I'm alright Jack" attitude - it stinks!
What do all these higher rate taxpayers spend all their money on? I earn £19,000 a year which supports my wife and two children in a nice home. We have electricity, a computer, Sky TV and never go hungry. I can afford the luxury of running a small car and we even had a holiday abroad in 1999 and are considering another this year. What a sick society we have where people who are in a higher tax band complain about the amount of cash they have in their pocket.
My local NHS trust sold off a large plot of land next to its main hospital site. A private golf course duly appeared after developers made their mark. This is complete stupidity when the same NHS trust could have built a good number of modest nursing homes on this site. Until such irresponsible actions are halted by this government and NHS managers replaced with credible individuals, why should any of us pay higher taxes?
Labour is introducing a two-tier class system in this country. One class pays all the taxes and the other uses the services. The amount of stealth taxes is prohibitive to small businesses. That is a lot of money that I am investing in this country of which I see NO benefit.
How can the government justify a tax hike while the super-rich avoid paying millions of pounds of tax through tax havens and legal loopholes which the Chancellor seems unwilling to close?
The NHS seems to be the major issue here and I agree with many people above that simply putting money into the bottomless pit will solve nothing. Until we begin to restrict the service only to those people who show a commitment to their own health and deny it to those who show no concern whatsoever, people will continue to wait longer.
Any government, and particularly Labour because they are in power need to prove that they can manage public services well and within defined parameters. No business in the world would be able to go on like this if there was no clear strategy and structure. They would not get the money from banks. Enough is enough. The public sector needs to smell the coffee.
I do not mind paying for a better service but only when the government can prove they can spend it prudently and show some clear success.
I would be quite happy to pay more for improved public services, were it not for the enormous inequity in taxation whereby the wealthy and large corporations pay far less proportionally than us wage-slaves and salary-serfs - or even nothing at all. It is time for them to pay their dues - then we could have better services and tax cuts!
As to comments in this forum about reform of the NHS - I wholeheartedly agree. The NHS must step back from its position of offering high-cost curative medicine almost exclusively, and instead become much more engaged in the task of supporting people in good health. This, I believe, was part of the original vision in those heady post-war years, and is far, far cheaper than high-tech interventions when people are already seriously ill.
Getting rid of a few layers of management wouldn't hurt, either.
A Labour government will never have the bottle or crucially the support amongst its own backbenchers to do what is really necessary to improve the public services - namely reform reform reform. This is because of the vested interests of the dinosaur trade unions like Unison and the NUT. I actually believe Blair has more or less got the right ideas for public services, and does want genuine reform. He will never get it though, and is now falling back on the old Labour tried and tested formula of tax and spend in a triumph of hope over experience.
At the moment we are just tipping money into a bottomless pit. What a huge disappointment from a government which promised us so much.
I am getting sick of going to work each day to pay for other people. The government seem to be forgetting the people in middle England who work, pay taxes and get no thanks for it. What encouragement is there for people to try and better themselves?
Could anyone explain me, how can Britain afford to keep army in every corner of the world, but not to pay for its public services? It is a political desire to spend money this way, there is no shortage of funds.
If paying higher taxes means better public services, then yes. However, I'll be very suspicious if, after taxes do go up, similar schemes like the Millennium Dome start cropping up. How can a government insist on raising taxes if it blatantly wastes our money on such schemes that were obvious failings from the beginning?
Fix the problem at the root before injecting more funds. High tax does not necessarily mean good health care, or good services in general. The most successful health care system in the world - in terms of successful outcomes and speed of diagnosis - is in the US where taxes are far lower. Almost all the world class health care programmes the government aspires to emulate have some degree of private involvement (the exception being Cuba!).
I am concerned about the possible rise in taxes as I am not satisfied the money will be spent wisely. I agree with some of the comments from other hardworking members of the public that for all we know the money will be spent on defence, illegal immigrants and on the pen-pushers in the public services. I feel so strongly about the way this country is heading that if I could I would emigrate tomorrow.
No, I would not be prepared to pay any more as we already pay national insurance/private dental care, as there are virtually no NHS dentists any more/opticians' fees /prescriptions etc. I feel the government should make better use of the money already taken - which causes enough hardship already.
I think any modern country expects basic fundamentals such as a good welfare, health service, military force, justice system and transport service. The question remains however at what point wastage and inefficiency overtakes throwing further monies at problems. Which there are, but it's not always money that's the problem; partly management, partly expectation and partly demand. Higher taxes means that HMG assume we cannot spend our earnings appropriately and have therefore to do it on our behalf. I do not believe this to be the case and therefore am against any rises and would even advocate reducing taxation, particularly regressive taxes rather than progressive.
I would willingly pay more money for the NHS but first and foremost I feel it is the individual's responsibility to look after their own health. Should we start charging people for alcohol tobacco and drug inflicted conditions? What about people who are obese through a fast food diet and lack of exercise? Maybe if people had to start paying directly they may begin to take responsibility
Having dealt with the NHS in a professional capacity I don't think they should be given any more money. I object to my money being used to fund a hopelessly inefficient, bureaucratic mess which is basically run for the convenience of the trade unions.
Higher taxation yes, but spend it on areas where it is not going to be wasted.
I already live abroad since engineering in the
UK is underpaid and people are overtaxed.
I'd pay UK taxes when I see I get value for money. Currently taxation is back to front in UK - "Let's get as much tax as we think we can get away with, then work out how to spend it."
I am on an 18-month waiting list for an operation on my heart and I would welcome any extra investment by the government. I could have a heart attack because of the problem I have, 18 months is a long time to wait! I feel very anxious about the whole thing and wish we had a health service like Germany...no waiting time there!
When a successful company has problems it economises, improves its products and services, gets back in touch with its clients. Why can't public services follow these proven methods? I'm sick of accelerated funding.
I have no problem with paying more for public services such as the NHS, but the NHS needs overhauling first, otherwise the extra money will simply be more money poured down a bottomless pit.
This government has failed in all its promises on improving public services, NHS, transport etc. Money alone is not the answer, and money should only be spent when it can be used to really improving public services, which it will not.
Also we should all remember the Labour party promised when they were elected at both of the last two elections that they would improve public services WITHOUT raising taxes.
As a higher rate taxpayer, I think this government takes far too much already. I think more time and effort should be spent clamping down on the money wasted on illegal immigrants, benefit fraudsters and those who cannot be bothered to work but still get every benefit going.
I already pay more than enough in taxes, especially when all the stealth taxes that this government introduced and increased are included. However I expect that taxes will rise in the Budget because that is what Labour does - just remember that you voted for them!
It looks like we shall have to pay higher taxes for better public services, although why we should I don't know, what with the economy doing so well and the fact that Labour has hardly fulfilled their election promises from 1997 let alone 2001.
I am a high earner who, like millions of others, has spent years slogging my guts out to build a career. I am from a working class background, so whatever success I have achieved has been hard-earned. I was not born to it. In the last 15 months I have travelled around the world, almost constantly, with my job. It has placed a great strain on my family life. But it was worth it because the rewards would benefit my family and help secure our future. Part of the return for all the time spent away from home was an annual bonus. 40% of it has disappeared into Gordon Brown's pocket - a total of £12,000. I could accept that if the cash paid for front line NHS staff, teachers or police officers. But it won't. It will protect the guaranteed pension of some pen-pusher in a town hall somewhere, or it will continue to employ a meaningless bureaucrat from the public sector/trades union constituency upon whom Labour relies so heavily for votes. My tax money will add nothing to frontline public services. It will be wasted upon a bureaucrat who adds no value whatsoever. Until Labour drags the public services kicking and screaming into the real world, they have no right to take even more of our earnings in tax. The burden is already at record levels. Enough is enough.
Like Richard earlier, I am a high rate tax payer. Unlike Richard, I am not too selfish to recognise the duty to society imposed on me by my good fortune. I would be perfectly happy to pay some extra tax as I can see that the public services are chronically underfunded.
It strikes me that those who complain about Labour's current public service performance and would like to vote Conservative are ready to jump out of a warm frying pan into a white hot fire. As I see it, the best people to be trusted with our public services are the Liberal Democrats.
A one per cent rise in national insurance contributions will cost me an extra £50 a month. Will this mean my eye specialist appointment will not be cancelled for the fifth time? Will it mean real benefits to anybody using the NHS? I don't think so. Until I can be convinced that my money won't pay for an NHS manager to upgrade their company car I will be very annoyed at yet further tax increases.
I would be than prepared to pay more tax to help fund a better NHS, education and transport system. My biggest concern is whether ALL of the money collected would be spent by those government departments or would we see some of this income spent by less favourable departments such as defence?
As any (smart) business person will tell you, "It's management, stupid!" If a creative imaginative plan to enhance our public services is run by energetic motivated leadership, then our taxes may not need to be increased much or at all. It's all about 'process' and efficiency, as any (equally smart) industrial designer will tell you. Throwing cash at a problem does not always work, as many a bungled government venture has proven, from the Dome to air traffic control.
I am old enough to remember how well Labour managed the economy during the 1970s. Now having had the good fortune to rely upon an economy which had been left in good shape, they realise that the floor is collapsing beneath them so are repeating the experiments of the past. Tax and spend. This will be very harmful for the UK economy and become evident within the next five years.
Pumping money into services won't on its own solve the problems. This will be an invitation for many high pressure salespeople and drugs companies to target the NHS, entertain the influential, and leave nurses exactly where they are today.
An all embracing state like most European countries implies higher taxes. Great Britain seems to be stuck between this model and the american one with low taxation. But Great Britain's public services are decades late and a lot money is needed. It's better to share taxes than having to pay for ridiculously expensive train tickets. In France, a train journey is half the price and takes half the time of a train journey in the UK... and I won't mention the NHS!
I expect to pay a lot more for my public services - but in return I expect them to be good. What I want to see, however, is greater investment in public transport, in renewable energies and alternative fuels, and major increases in defence spending - we have a role as international peacekeeper that is being neglected through ageing firepower and underfunded soldiers.
As a working professional and higher rate tax payer I made the silly mistake of genuinely believing Labour election pledges (ie., no tax increases) and voted for Labour for the first time in my life in the last election. Now, despite major stealth increases over the past few years, we are now faced with another mammoth increase as labour reverts to its old intrinsic believ that it knows better how to spend our money than we do ourselves. Tax and spend - yes, the road to disaster as it was back in the seventies. I for one will not be making any more silly mistakes when it comes to voting at the next election
There's nothing wrong with having to pay the due price for what we get. However, the government has consistently denied the need for higher taxes ever since they came to office, whilst the rest of the country seems to have faced up to this a long time ago. This is the most worrying aspect of the failures within our public services. The government is unable even to identify the problem, never mind apply a solution. All we've seen in the last few weeks is a "softening" process from Blair, Milburn et al, that taxes have got to rise. They should be held to account as to why it's taken them so long to see the obvious.
Having had to pay £400 for an injection into my spine, and £100 to see a consultant, or otherwise wait 6 months to see the consultant and then a further 6 months waiting for the injection on the waiting list, no I am not happy to pay more tax into a failing system! My husband is having to wait a year to have an surgery on a slipped disc, during that time he is unable to work due to the acute pain he is in, so how is paying more tax going to make this better? As he could have the surgery asap if he paid privately, it is not due to lack of medical staff, but due to poor management!
Nurses are paid enough, the problem is lack of effective management, such as paying twice the price for agency staff when they could be more flexible to those very same nurses who are working for an agency because they can choose the shifts they need to fit in with their family commitments.
Never again will I vote for Tony Blair, he has detroyed the NHS, many of us nurses who qualified more than ten years ago, when standards were high, will never work in the NHS again, it is too heartbreaking.
It would be fine to increase tax if, as mentioned above, the money could be guarenteed to be spent on exactly those services (NHS, education) and not something like defence. If I could get that assurance and be shown exactly where all the money goes from start to finish, I would be fine with it. It really boils down to trust...does everyone really trust the government to spend it wisely?
The first thing I'd like to see is a revision of tax changes that have been made during the past twenty years which have benefitted the well off - cuts in inheritance tax and the highest rates of income tax are just two examples that I would reverse and I would also abolish the tax concessions currently enjoyed by private health and education providers. If, following a reappraisal of our priorities, it became clear that more funds were required to bolster our public services, then I would be happy to pay more.
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