Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Sunday, 17 August 2008 09:50 UK

Minister calls for 'tax on rich'

Bank notes (generic)
Mr Lewis says Labour face electoral defeat without bold decisions

A minister has called on the government to consider a tax on high earners to help the middle classes through the economic slowdown.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Health Minister Ivan Lewis said introducing practical measures to boost morale at this difficult time was vital.

He warns that Labour will lose the next election if it does not take tough tax decisions to bail out core voters.

His comments come as a poll suggests Labour Party popularity is waning.

The latest YouGov poll, commissioned by the Sunday Times, showed that Labour's support was at 25%, with the Conservative Party in a 20-point lead.

Since the party's defeat in the Glasgow East by-election in July, there has been criticism by some within the party about Prime Minister Gordon Brown's performance as leader and his ability to win Labour a fourth term in office.

'Duty to act'

The only way to win the next election, Mr Lewis warns, is by protecting the living standards of the "mainstream majority" that helped secure Labour's victory in the past three elections.

"Our duty is to act decisively and make tax and spending decisions that show we understand what it is like to cope with rising food, fuel and utility bills," Mr Lewis said.

"If as a result of the current economic situation the only way to help hard-pressed middle-class families is to ask the higher earners to pay more, then serious consideration should be given to that," he added.

He does not specify how much one has to earn to fall within this bracket, but it is thought to be aimed at people earning 250,000 and more, according to the newspaper.

Other suggestions include a windfall tax or a temporary freeze on stamp duty payments.

This would ensure "meaningful extra help" for the hard-pressed middle classes who "work long hours for their two holidays a year", but are now struggling with the basic cost of living.

Earlier this month, Chancellor Alistair Darling said that a stamp duty holiday was one option the government was considering to boost the stagnant housing market.

The government has also come under pressure to impose a windfall tax on energy companies amid soaring petrol and energy costs.

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