Yes, the top 1% pay 27% of tax. No, they’re not paying their share.

I’ve used these figures before, in a post I wrote a few months ago in response to some claims by Tory MP and apologist for the rich, Jacob Rees-Mogg. However, the claims have surfaced again in the last few days as defenders of the poor, oppressed wealthy have rushed to rubbish Labour’s idea of a ‘jobs guarantee’ for the long-term unemployed. So it seemed appropriate to write a new article highlighting the figures – and the fallacy they’re used to support.

Think what you will about Labour’s idea (and my own thoughts are tending toward the ‘worthy effort but try again’ variety), it’s at least an attempt to do something for people who are on the employment scrapheap through no fault of their own.

But it has drawn the predictable response from the Tories, with the ludicrous Grant Shapps/Michael Green saying that it would mean Labour ‘spending the same money twice‘, even though Labour have been very clear that if the idea went ahead it would be funded by an additional £1 billion of revenue generated by reducing tax relief currently enjoyed by the richest on money that they put into their pension pots.

A slightly more logically coherent, but still wholly incorrect, response came from George Bull, Senior Tax Partner at tax and accountancy firm Baker Tilly, on the BBC News channel yesterday. It’s one which I have seen echoed around the web since, which is why I’m re-blogging these figures – whose logic is, I believe, incontestible.

Mr Bull said:

Why has [Ed Balls] produced..all the noise..by explaining that there will be an extra tax charge to pay for it? He could simply pay for this out of normal taxation.

In other words, ‘Why tax the rich to pay for this when you could tax the less well-off for it?’ Mr Bull went on to accuse the Shadow Chancellor of being ‘socially divisive‘ and ‘corrosive‘ by targeting the rich as the source of funds for the proposed new scheme. He then trotted out the old favourite:

The top 1% of earners pay 27% of tax revenues. They already pay their share.

It’s a very convincing argument, on the face of it. It just happens to be wholly false. Let’s see why.

In Rees-Mogg’s contribution to Newsnight back in September, he put forward much the same argument. He stated that the richest 1% earn 13% of the country’s total income, but pay 26% of total tax revenue. He added that, because the rich paid 21% of tax revenues in 1997 and 26% now (not 27% as Mr Bull claimed, but we won’t quibble over 1% now), they were definitely paying their fair share. Or, as David Cameron might put it, ‘we are all in it together’.

The big problem with his logic is exposed by looking – as he did – at the situation in 1997 compared to now. Except not just at the contributions to tax revenue, but also at earnings.

BBC website article at the beginning of 2012 analysed the increase in UK income inequality from 1997 to 2007. It showed that the average income of the top 1% of UK earners increased from £187,989 to £301,325 – an increase of just over 60% (income of the top 0.1% almost doubled). And these are just the ‘declared income’ figures – many of the wealthy find all kinds of ways to categorise their income so that it’s not declared as income at all, because once you earn that much the cost of paying someone to find loopholes becomes insignificant.

Since the top 1% have continued to increase their wealth since 2007, we can safely assume that the difference is even greater now. During the same 1997-2007 period, average incomes for the bottom 90% increased by only 17.6% – and for the lowest earners by far less.

The increase in the tax contribution by the top 1%, from 21% in 1997 to 26% now, means that their contribution is around 23% higher (or 28.5% if you go with the 27% current figure), relative to what they were paying in 1997. Either figure is far less than the increase of at least 60% (and probably considerably more) in their incomes.

This means that the wealthiest are now paying substantially less toward our national upkeep than they were 15 years ago, relative to their wealth.


Rees-Mogg made another point which bears on the issue of the last few days, too – though not in the way he intended. He talked about historical tax revenues, pointing out (more or less correctly) that tax revenues have rarely exceeded 38% of GDP. Of course, the fact that it has been the case in the past doesn’t prove it can’t be different in the future – just as those investment ads say: ‘Past returns do not guarantee future performance‘.

But he was a lot more off-target than that. Here’s what he gave away without meaning to:

Projected tax revenue for the current financial year is only 35.5% of expected GDP. Since that’s an expected figure rather than a definite one, let’s look at the 2011/12 year instead: in the last fiscal year, government revenues from income tax were £550.6 billion, or 35.7% of GDP of £1.542 trillion.

The difference between 38% and 35.7% might not seem like so much. But if the government had taxed in order to achieve the ‘magic’ 38% figure, it would have generated an additional tax take of £35.47 billion.

Or, to put that into terms that make concrete sense: enough to make the welfare cuts so far of £10bn AND the targeted NHS cuts of £20bn completely unnecessary – AND to cover the appr. £4bn shortfall in public sector pensions.

In spite of the protestations of those trying to protect their own huge wealth and that of their clients/donors, one thing is clear:

Whatever you think of Labour’s ‘job guarantee’ scheme, the richest are not paying their share – and there is plenty of room for additional taxes on them in order to fund good ideas to help those most in need. We are not ‘all in it together’. Not by a long, long way.

Fairness? Pull the other one.


  1. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    If you have ever been close to believing the Tories, or anyone in the top one per cent of UK earners, when they tell you they’re paying their fair share, show them this. It explains why they’re not.

  2. ..and of course this is just about definable income. Nothing here about wealth, ownership, assets and hidden income. The wealthy can certainly pay very much more.

  3. Despite chronic illness I want to work but my health won’t co-operate, in the meantime I used my ill health it to inspire ideas to help others. Over time I’ve created work for over a dozen UK businesses but the jobcentre couldn’t understand my position, a few hours work makes me ill for days and causes widespread pain. Both I and my potential employers approached the jobcentre to see what help was available but they didn’t have a clue, it took weeks to get permission to do a permitted work trial. After 2 weeks working3 hours a day 2 days a week the employer ended it because of the obvious effect on my health, the director still offers support & advice & if my condition improves there is an open offer of support.

    1. It’s interesting, Art, but doesn’t change anything. Those at the bottom can much less afford the tax contribution they make than can those at the top. And their low wages are helping enrich those at the top end, too, so they’re making a massive invisible contribution.

      Also, your graph shows deciles, but the top 5%, 1% etc earn far more than £70k, and can afford all kinds of accountants and tax-reducing vehicles that the rest can’t.

      The fact remains – the wealth of the wealthiest has risen by far more than their contribution to tax revenue – so they’re contributing less in real terms than they were, while everyone else gets worse off.

  4. Well i dont understand why they should the fact they may be able to afford more isnot a reason . They pay there share they do not have to subsidise everyone else/ Perhaps the people whinging on here should go to work earn a few quid and then see if they agree with the idiot thsat wrote this and by the way his arguments are bollocks and dont stack up.

    1. How typical of this type of comment that no attempt is made to explain *why* the article is ‘bollocks and [doesn’t] stack up’.

      So hard to find an intelligent right-winger to argue with…

  5. It might be too late but I just came across the article. I now start to understand the nonsense that comes across the minds of the likes of Ed Miliband and others when they say the rich don’t pay their fair share.

    It’s nonsense because in any part of our society except taxation, everyone pays the same for services and/or infrastructure used. The same car costs the same for all of us, electricity costs the same, a theatre ticket costs the same. No tradesman is asking for a P60 when they charge you for their services. But somehow when it comes to taxation things are different and taken to the extremes. It makes sense to have the better off paying more when it comes to contributions towards the common good and I believe there are very few who disagree with that. That is why the equal share scheme is not even considered but a proportional system should be in place. If someone earns 10 times more from someone else then he or she has to contribute 10 times more. To put it in absolute values someone earning £20k should pay (with todays rates) £3.4k (including NI) so someone earning £200K should pay 34£.

    This is not what we have though because the herd demands more. They want better hospitals, better roads, better services, better everything. They want the level of services that the rich have and they don’t want to get there through efficiency, they want to just spend more. So we need more funds and who’s better to get them from? Ah, it is the people who will probably have no use of what is planned with their money so let’s now change the taxation system to be progressive so someone who earns 10 times more does not ‘just’ pay 10 times more but 25 times more. A simple example: Someone on £20K income pays £3.4K (including NI) on tax but someone on 200K pays £83K (including NI).

    But not even this is now acceptable as how can we let anyone (using the above example) with £113 K net left in his pocket while people around UK cant even afford a holiday? So then, there come the ever demanding simpletons that author or agree with articles like this one, who somehow have superior moral radar than the rest and express their superiority by demanding even more from people who already provide too much and by completely and utterly distorting the term ‘fair share’. Not only they are demonizing the 1% and labeling them as tax avoiders, they completely disregard the huge bill they already cover that has also increased in the past 15 years by 23% even thought the number of people who cover this bill is still the same (we are talking the 1% here). What you don’t realise is that if you put the 1% in a bus and send them to the moon you will be missing 26% of your revenues. This is projected to be 30% in the near future. The revenue they generate won’t magically appear from somewhere else because the economy is not a zero sum game. That means all services will have to be cut consistently every year until there is nearly nothing.

    I only have appreciation for people who pay 10 or 25 times more than what I pay in order for me to enjoy the same common infrastructure and services as they do. It’s morally absurd to continually demand more without even the slightest of appreciation of what is already happening. I wonder what would satisfy you? Would it be that the 1% covers 99% of the bill? Would that be enough? Or if one year their revenue jumps by 50% and they still pay ‘only’ 99% of the bill, will you start throwing stones at them?

    So lets first look inside before we start projecting our inefficiencies and envy outwards and see what WE are doing to contribute to the greater good before we demonize people who already do 25 times more without even considering the jobs they create/provide and the charitable contributions they make compared to the rest of us. If a rich fella pays £1000 a year to UNICEF although he arguably can pay more, this is still 10 times more that what I pay and before I put him on the spot via ‘nice’ articles like this one or even better through tax legislation, I would have just asked if he would consider doing more. By no means the 1% is a group of saints. But proportionally there are as many thieves/crooks among them as they are in the rest 99%. We can only improve the overall situation if we strive to become like them (economically) so we are able to contribute more and not by trying to bring them down to our economic level by taxing them to death (see Thomas Piketty and his ideas on taxation).

    1. You’re clearly unable to do some basic maths. See the title of the article on which you’re commenting for a clue as to why they’re emphatically not doing even the misguided minimum you suggest.

      1. And it seems that you are clearly unable to understand basic arguments and then you wonder why it’s so hard to find an intelligent right-winger to argue with. Did you even read what I wrote? Clearly not as then you’d have to write a proper answer and it’s obvious that you do not have one.

        You say that someone’s contribution should increase according to his earnings increase. I say that an already unfair proportion is paid already by the people you accuse so this claim is not justified. Economics don’t work this way, read a book or two and you will realise it yourself (I’d suggest you start from the earlier ones first: Adam Smith, Milton Keynes, Hayek, Friedman etc).

        Maybe now that my reply is only a couple of sentences long you can understand the argument and leave your envious emotions outside of the picture when you try to argue with right wingers like me.

        BTW an MSc in advance computing with distinction from a red brick university sais otherwise about my math capabilities.

        P.S. I hope this comment does not take again a couple of weeks to be published.

      2. Once I’ve approved one comment, future ones go through automatically unless I tell it otherwise.

        Qualifications don’t mean the absence of blinders – and your restating of the argument doesn’t make it any more cogent or any less wrong. Like I said, read the title of the article.

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