Boris has been having fun canvassing recently but was shocked when someone blanked him out earlier this week:
“Hello!” I cried, and extended my hand. Blank. Nothing. He simply walked on by, cutting me as dead as a doornail, and shot into his house. For all the notice he took, I might as well have been a bollard, or some other item of pavement furniture
Taxes have been increasing under this Government to a level where it is almost not worth working:
in a country of ever rising taxes it is the poorest who seem to be clobbered the hardest by Gordon Brown. It is a scandal that the average person pays more than a third – 36 per cent – of his gross income in tax. But if you are in the bottom fifth of the income groups, you pay more than 40 per cent, largely because so much goes in indirect taxes.
Labour’s cleaning up on the council tax
We pretend to be thick-skinned, we candidates, but there is one thing that makes us blush to the roots. We love it when people say they might vote for us. We have learnt to handle it if they say that they are frightfully sorry, but they are going to vote for that nice Mr Blair, or Charlie, or they are going Green this year. We don’t even mind if they tell us to go and jump in a lake. What we hate, what we fear, is being ignored. And that is what happened to your columnist the other day.
I was striding down some wisteria-dotted lane in the company of my fellow canvassers, like a bunch of Reservoir Tories. Striding towards us was a man of about 60. I hailed him. “Hello!” I cried, and extended my hand. Blank. Nothing. He simply walked on by, cutting me as dead as a doornail, and shot into his house. For all the notice he took, I might as well have been a bollard, or some other item of furniture like the best recliners, and I confess that I was mortified.
So bruised was I in my pathetic politician’s soul (and so curious) that on the way back up the street I sought out his house. There he was, pottering by the window-boxes. This time he had no room for escape, and soon we were getting to the bottom of his discontent.
“I’m a working man,” he said, “and as far as I can see no one is interested in the working class any more. I’m not a single mother. I’m not disabled. I’m not on benefits. The Labour lot don’t give a monkey’s about people like me. I have to work seven days a week just to survive. Here, I’ll show you.” And he went inside his house, and returned with his payslip.
He read it out, and at first I was shocked, and then quite angry. He had worked for the council for about 23 years, and now had 18 people who reported to him. He was a road sweeper, and this is what he was paid. For a fortnight’s work, in which he cleaned roads every day, he received gross pay of £542. He had to pay tax of £161, and then National Insurance contributions of £86. And then he had to find about £50 per fortnight for his council tax, because he was in Band D, and therefore paying the thick end of £1,200 per year.
Add it all up, and it strikes me that my new friend the road cleaner is paying well over 50 per cent of his income in tax. He is being taxed, taxed, taxed, and the harder he works, the more heavily he is taxed, because he pays extra tax for overtime. “Is there anything you can do about it?” he asked me. I promised to do my best, and the first and best thing I can do is to publicise this outrage, that in a country of ever rising taxes it is the poorest who seem to be clobbered the hardest by Gordon Brown. It is a scandal that the average person pays more than a third – 36 per cent – of his gross income in tax. But if you are in the bottom fifth of the income groups, you pay more than 40 per cent, largely because so much goes in indirect taxes.
Look at that bill for National Insurance, payable by this road sweeper, and you will see the cynicism of Labour’s pledge not to raise income tax. In what sense is that tax not an income tax? We need to help that man out of his grinding cycle, in which the emanations of the state pay him a pittance to clean our roads, and then take away a large slice of that pittance in tax. That means not endlessly jacking up his council tax, in the way that will certainly happen yet again if Labour gets in.
For the past two weeks, I have been standing on doorsteps listening to people complain about the forthcoming revaluation of the housing stock, and so when I heard that Oliver Letwin was going to scrap the revaluation – and thereby keep the bills down – I almost upended my coffee and shouted for joy. It is the first thing in this election that has been vaguely surprising, and which approaches a Tory masterstroke. Labour would unquestionably have used the revaluation to push up council tax in the South, and divert ever more central government support to the largely Labour-held North of the country.
If the Welsh experience is anything to go by, Gordon Brown has been looking to make an extra £2 billion from the revaluation – by pushing up the bills paid by men like our friend the road sweeper. That would be wrong, and it would be equally wrong to push up his National Insurance – as Gordon Brown has all but admitted would take place in Act One, Scene One of the next Labour government.
Who is he paying for, this man who sweeps our roads? He is helping out of his small income to pay for the myriad people who have been hired by the Labour government to work in the public services – 850,000 since 1997, jobs funded out of tax, to go with the million jobs that have been lost in manufacturing industry. He is paying for jobs that are nothing like as important as the job of cleaning the roads. He is paying for the gender awareness compliance officers, and all the legions of clipboard-toters and quota-monitors that have been produced by New Labour.
No wonder he feels that no one is fighting for him; and to cap it all, it is clear that Labour is going to means-test the pension, so that people who don’t save are left as well off as those who do, and people who do save feel like mugs.
On every front, from road-sweeping to pensions, Labour is breaking the link between effort and reward, and it is time it was restored.