The problem with equality

Why must we pay higher taxes? So the States can spend money on things many of us don’t believe in, says Horace Camp

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IT’S Budget time again, and from a quick glance, I think I will be slightly worse off.

I avoid tax on cigarettes, alcohol and fuel by not consuming any, but I am unable to avoid the above-inflation TRP rise which will be applied to my already ‘super’ level of property tax. I will benefit by £60 because of the increased personal allowance but I can easily see how inflation and the TRP hit will more than wipe that out.

But, all in all, what surprised me most was that we are all doing very well. Income tax take significantly over budget, Covid support under budget and general duties being the cherry on the cake.

Good times, eh? And yet we have had weeks of being told we are only one step away from Queer Street and the only answer is to squeeze every last drop of tax out of us. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

Well it does when you see the elephant in the room, which is States spending. Tax revenue may have increased but States spending increases at a faster rate. If indeed we had decided to cap States spending at this year’s level, then we would be quids in next year. Guess what, that’s not going to happen.

Clearly, for our government to give us something they first have to take something away from us. The more they take away from us, the more they can give us and that really is the issue about future taxation. Traditionally we have long been a small ‘c’ conservative island. Not Tory scum or Eton millionaires but a community of people requiring little interference in our lives from the States and mostly requiring government to provide a safety net for those with nowhere else to turn.

But at some time in the last 50 years we have been caught up in the great shift to small ‘s’ socialism which is a feature of most European countries today.

You are now thinking I have lost the plot, and you may be right, but let me explain.

In the old days, some would say the good old days, we aspired to be successful. And success generally was measured by the quality of life we managed to achieve for ourselves and our families. We looked upon the Earth and all its resources as opportunities to exploit and imagined that growth was limitless.

But today I sense that younger generations no longer see the world through our eyes. Possibly the greatest change is the perceived importance of equality. I’m not sure how much time I spent considering equality when I was growing up but it was either none or less than none. In fact, I worried about very little when I was growing up. I can’t even recall being worried about a nuclear holocaust, which stereotypically I should have.

The UK is undoubtedly a socialist country and has been since the late 20th century, with its roots firmly established in the introduction of a National Health System. No subsequent Conservative government has seriously attempted to reform it, even though it is a huge cost to the country and will continue to grow exponentially.

It took some time for us to adopt the model for secondary care, but we did – and from that day the burden on government grew and grew until it has become the great liability we see today. And the reasoning behind it is equality.

The second problem we have with equality is that we are not embracing the idea that all islanders deserve equal care but that all islanders deserve the same standard of care delivered by the UK. Yes, we can afford the same level of care as citizens of the sixth largest economy in the world. And even though the UK has greater and far wider reaching levels of taxation than we do, it cannot afford the NHS without printing vast amounts of money to balance its books.

We had the same issue with schools, which was a clear example of the move from little ‘c’ to little ‘s’. In past days the States, quite rightly, decided all children should be educated. By a series of different methods it managed to generally reduce the total cost of secondary education by encouraging the parents of 30% of children not to use the States schools.

Why did nobody when reviewing the future of secondary education consider, rather than spending £10k on each child, offering a £5k incentive to encourage parents not to take up States education? Savings in annual costs and the ability to reduce the number of schools would have been a win, win.

Sensible and pragmatic, but as it would not foster equality then absolutely not a goer in socialist Guernsey. In fact, I expect over time the States will try to get a larger percentage of children in its schools, even though the only practical outcome would be higher costs for the taxpayer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying our move to socialism is a bad thing, but it is an expensive one and will get more expensive over time. What I am saying is that those of my generation who believe in cutting our coat to suit our cloth will undoubtedly rail at being squeezed for money to pay for things we don’t necessarily believe in.

But on the other hand, we can take some satisfaction that the red path will continue to get more and more expensive and long after we are gone the youngsters who want equality above all else will just give the States most of their wages and be happy to keep a few pounds of pocket money for themselves.

On that day, Sarnia Cherie will be replaced by The Red Flag and the last one on the boat will turn out the lights.

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