Richard Ritchie is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.
Whenever the media seeks to highlight a policy failing in health or welfare, it is assiduous in seeking out the most desperate of ‘hard’ or ‘sad’ cases, in order to confront ministers with the alleged inhumanity of their actions.
The Today programme presents an almost daily litany of personal tragedy, and Keir Starmer is following the precedent set by Jeremy Corbyn in reading out each week at Prime Minister’s Questions the saddest and most shocking letters he has received from his constituents or members of the public. And all the Government can do, because Ministers can’t possibly know the circumstances of each case, is to listen in compassionate silence and request the details.
There is a problem with this approach. While no doubt these cases are for the most part genuine, you cannot increase the general prosperity and well-being of the country by an obsession with the vulnerable. This may sound callous, but the danger is that by focusing all public attention on the weakest in society, one forgets what may be happening to the rest on whom the success of everyone depends.
So if it is unrealistic to expect any reduction in what some consider to be emotional blackmail, one might at least hope that similar examples were proffered of the damage caused by the policies forced upon politicians by the regular citation of human hardships.
If, for example, the experience of a few individuals reported on the media is perceived as a legitimate justification for an increase in taxation, then why not give similar scrutiny to the personal circumstances of a much larger group of people who have to pay the taxes? Individual case studies to embarrass ministers into spending public money could be matched by similar accounts of the personal consequences of the inevitable tax increases which follow.
These may never be as dramatic or as tear-jerking as stories related to welfare, the sick or the elderly: but it is, after all, only the fit, able and healthy who in the end are capable of increasing the wealth of the country upon which weaker members of society depend.
This is especially the case with the young and potentially successful. Take, for instance, a young graduate from a leading university who has chosen to become a Chartered Accountant.
Nobody is going to stand outside in the street applauding this choice. A young person employed in one of the leading accountancy firms will be paid from the outset a starting salary which is high by most young people’s standards, although significantly lower than the mega banking salaries earned by young graduates in the city. Moreover, it is likely the salary will increase every time the trainee passes each cluster of exams, which occur with a monotonous regularity – offering at least some compensation and reward for the hours of leisure sacrificed in search of a qualification.
So let’s play the media at its own game and cite a particular case – the sort which Keir Starmer is unlikely to read out in the House. It’s not exceptional or dramatic, but it should be disturbing.
A trainee accountant whose annual salary was £27,750 in May 2021 increased to £30,500 in May of this year. So far, so good – some acknowledgment of hard work, at least until the state intervened.
But once taxation and National Insurance was deducted, the take-home pay of some £1,875 per month in May 2021 had increased to only £1,890 in May 2022 – an increase of £15 a month. This was due principally to a large increase in the amount required to pay off the student loan (an increase from £3 to £24 per month); and an increase in monthly tax & National Insurance payments from nearly £435 in 2021 to £526 in 2022. The rest was made up by a new monthly pension contribution which, however commendable and necessary, doesn’t provide much of an incentive for someone in their twenties.
Nobody is suggesting this leads to hardship. Some would say it’s a nice problem to have. But Conservatives shouldn’t say that. Here is a small, practical example of what is happening to an important section of the population as a result of this Conservative Government’s increase in taxation. The signal that this gives to those whose presence in the country is essential for the pensions and welfare of both present and future generations should be concerning.
It is so easy to say that people are willing to pay higher taxes – especially if, as in the case of care homes, these are meant to be hypothecated via the social care precept. But when taxation is viewed from the perspective of a young person just building a career, one can see how an increase in salary is currently almost entirely eaten up before any of it reaches a bank account.
Maybe this should be remembered more frequently when presented in graphic terms with the genuine hardships and tragedies of a minority of the population. Nobody should seek to forget or minimise the hardship experienced in this country.
But there ought to be enough taxable capacity to finance a decent safety-net without having to confiscate every young person’s increase in salary. Those who throughout their lives are expected to pay more into the exchequer than they extract are going to be very important if “the old, the lame and weak” are to be properly looked after in the future. That’s why we also need to remember the personal experiences of taxpayers – although possibly with more realism and less emotionalism than currently accompanies calls for higher spending.