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Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 13:50 UK

A really quick game about tax

Michael Blastland
Different ways of seeing stats

A game about tax - it hardly sounds like party material. But for his latest column Michael Blastland invites you to try a little guess test.

We're hearing a lot about taxes rising to pay for the recession. But do we know how much the government takes of the national cake, how this compares with the past, and how much is forecast? Guess what we're paying - and see the answer - by clicking on the slide show.


Here's how much national income the state was taking in taxes and other demands on our money up to the point that the Labour government was elected in 1997. What happened next, and what's the forecast? Click for some options.
Graph A
Was it A? Labour consistently takes a smaller share of national income than Mrs Thatcher, close to John Major, but forecast to fall in the current recession to the lowest for decades, before rising again.
Graph B
Or B? The Labour government takes a steadily increasing share of the national income. This continues to rise as the recession looms. The forecast is for yet more rises as the recession is paid for long after economic recovery.
Graph C
Or C? The Labour government holds its share of national income steady for two years before a rapid rise in taxes. This steadies at levels approaching the highest of the 1970s. The forecast is for a spike to levels not seen for decades.
AND THE ANSWER IS... (cue drum roll)... A. Readers will have their own explanations for this little piece of history. I'm going to let the graph stand without further comment, except to wonder how many will guess correctly.
BACK {current} of {total} NEXT

These charts count all the money the government takes from all sources. The data can be found in the latest Public Finances Databank . Look for the table called "Total receipts and net taxes and social security contributions". This is a standard measure. The forecasts are the Treasury's as made in this year's Budget.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Extraordinary! What a useful measure this idea of the total tax take is. It would be a corrective to so much misperception which is encouraged by our opaque tax system. Of course it remains true that any given individual may pay rates well above or well below that national figure.
Jonthan Chiswell Jones, Pevensey, East Sussex

Borrowing. Simple as. What Brown did was equivalent to a homeowner selling their car and borrowing £100,000 to spend on redecorating and a holiday to the Middle East. A waste of money and even more so because it could have been done with so much less waste. It's like that homeowner switching to part-time work to oversee the DIY. In real life, that's skimming too much private sector productivity for the public sector.
Calvin Graham, London

The problem is that spending has increased much faster than income (taxes) for the government. As anyone who has binged on credit cards or mortgage debt knows what happen: short term pleasure leads to long term pain. If the BBC wants to be insightful then do not publish half the equation (taxes) - publish the balanced picture (tax and spend).
Jo Owen, London

A more meaningful graph would show government expenditure versus population. If the wealth of the nation doubles with population level, the government should be taking half as much as a percentage.
Ben Turner, London, UK

Is this done by accepting Gordon Brown's rules, like treating his "tax credits" as if they were part of the tax system and not the benefit system?
Sam Chapman, Chorley, UK

A little simplistic. GDP per capita (or national income per person) was very low at the start of the Thatcher era, so taxes would have to represent a large % of GDP in order for a government to even exist. As the economy strengthened, tax as a percentage of GDP dropped because more people worked and they worked more productively (great result everyone), but this trend seems to have stopped around the time Labour took over. Difficult to prove categorically, but taxes really should have come down a lot more over the last 10 years. Look at Switzerland, they hardly have a poor standard of living yet pay much lower taxes. And do these figures factor in council tax rises? And we haven't even started to talk about the fact that services (schools, hospitals, etc) have degraded over the past decade despite massive tax increases in absolute terms.
Jonny, London

The misconception arises because there is poor stewardship of the money raised by taxation, so the impression of paying a lot for little return occurs. The services which the government is being paid to provide don't seem to be there: poor pay for health workers, military, police and teachers, lack of resources for these organisation, lifesaving drugs banned due to cost... This is why people perceive that they are paying "too much" tax, rather than the mathematical proportion.
Megan, Cheshire, UK

Looks like claims under Major were decisively addressed. Just goes to show that for all that he was disliked for being boring, he was actually quite a sensible and effective statesman.
Will, London

I think tax rates haven't really changed too much over the years... the biggest factor here is the North Sea revenues in the 80s.
Alvin, London

What proportion is from individuals and what from corporation tax? If the take from individuals is up, and the take from lower incomes up in particular, while take from corporations decreases, then that would fit quite well with what we're complaining about. If, on the other hand, the rich and businesses are paying a healthy share, and the tax burden on the lower and middle incomes are consistently low, then I'd be more surprised.
DS, London

The actually figures would be similar to those of the Thatcher era, but the accounting industry which is built around ensuring people pay as little tax as possible has ensured that the figures have come down. Greed and the government's lack of interest in closing the loopholes explains this with ease.
Andrew Malpin, Norwich

It's worth considering that the Government only partially funds its spending from taxation. This year, it plans to borrow a record 12% of GDP, which added to the 37% in the above chart takes Government spending to 49%. That's before taking into consideration the off balance sheet expenditure through Public-Private Partnerships, which did not exist in the 1980s, but have accounted for a large chunk of government expenditure in recent years. All of this money has to come from the taxpayer eventually.
Dan Hassett, Calgary, Canada

Unfortunately, reactions to this article are likely to show more about pre-existing political opinions than the statistics displayed. After all, nobody shouts quite so loudly as someone who is trying to be heard over an avalanche of evidence.
Euan, Swindon

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