How a tax hike increased the deficit

SLOWLY but surely, the real cost of the return to the politics of envy is becoming clear. Figures out last night confirmed yet again that crippling tax hikes are driving people and economic activity away from Britain. Rather than raising extra tax receipts to plug Britain’s budget deficit, there is growing evidence that the raids are actually reducing the amount of money collected by the taxman, thus inflicting even greater debt on the rest of us. Our predicament is depressing almost beyond words.

The number of non-doms living in the UK collapsed by 16,000 in 2008-09, the most recent year for which data is available, according to yesterday’s figures. This is a dramatic decline: an 11.6 per cent drop from 139,000 in 2007-08 to 123,000. When in April 2008 Labour – egged on by the Conservatives – introduced an annual levy of £30,000 for those who had claimed non-dom status for seven years, pundits dismissed the tax as too low to make a difference. City A.M. never bought this – unfortunately, we were right.

Non-doms are people who originated overseas and pay UK tax on their UK earnings but no tax on their foreign income. The original non-doms were Greek shipping moguls who fled their socialist country to base themselves (and their businesses) in London. Until recently, the UK fought to attract such people; they pay a lot of UK tax and are often employers or high spenders. Yesterday’s figures actually underplay the true extent of the exodus: the departure of non-doms is bound to have accelerated in 2009-10 and will continue in the coming years as a result of the 50p tax rate, the hike in capital gains tax, the extra national insurance contributions and the near-hysterical war on financiers and myriad other attacks on wealth-creators and foreign investors that are now routine in this country.

Not all of the decline in non-doms can be blamed on higher taxes. Part of it will have been due to the recession. Some non-doms – those with relatively modest foreign incomes – will have decided that it simply wasn’t worth paying £30,000 and will have opted instead to become regular taxpayers. But many will have left – and many more who would otherwise have settled here will have decided it was no longer worth it, especially given the constant fears that the fee could be hiked further.

The Treasury told us 5,400 non-doms opted to pay the fee. This means that the taxman raised an extra £162m. The Treasury wouldn’t or couldn’t give us any more information, so I’ve made a few guesstimates to work out the net cost of the tax raid. Being over-generous to the government, it might be that half the missing non-doms are now full taxpayers. Let’s assume they are paying an extra £15,000 in tax each. That would make another £120m in tax, taking the total to £282m. Let’s then assume that the 8,000 missing non-doms would have paid £50,000 each in UK income tax, capital gains tax, VAT and stamp duty – the gross loss jumps to £400m, which means that the Treasury is £118m worse off. The real loss is almost certainly much higher. Once again, Arthur Laffer’s adage that increases in tax rates can lead to a reduction in tax receipts has come true. In years to come, Britain’s short-sighted stupidity will be used as a case study in introductory economics courses. In the meantime, the rest of us will have to pay even more tax to plug the deficit.

allister.heath@cityam.com
Follow me on twitter: @allisterheath

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