Simon Sweetman was an inspector of taxes for 18 years. He left the Inland Revenue in 1989 to join Chartered Accountants Scrutton Goodchild & Sanderson, later part of Scrutton Bland, where he was successively a senior manager and later a partner. He has been an independent consultant since 2001. He is a former member of the tax policy unit of the Federation of Small Businesses and the small business working group of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.
Margaret Thatcher and taxation
One has to say something about the woman who commenced the noble task of dismantling the structure of a civilised society, a task being carried forward bravely by Cameron and Osborne supported by the demented wailing of the Daily Mail and The Sun.
It is particularly worth noting that all the increased wealth in the country since then has accrued to the top 1% of the population in terms of income or wealth, and that for the average person income has effectively stood still, following the years from 1945 to 1979 when the country was moving slowly towards equality. The lowering of tax rates over time has simply given the advantage to the rich.
In 1979 I was working for the Inland Revenue, and saw how over the years that followed, as public sector incomes fell further and further behind the private sector, the department steadily lost its brightest performers to the burgeoning tax avoidance industry. It was in those years that the department started to lose its battles because it no longer had the right people to fight them, and its political masters took a distinctly relaxed view of complex tax avoidance: it just showed how clever you were. In some ways, I think, it has never recovered. Greed was good, and Greed won.
At the same time the great traditions of the UK Civil Service - the very notion of public service - were broken as workers in the public sector were, and are., constantly denigrated by their employers.
There was massive resistance to the Thatcher project: even apart from the miners, the 1980s seemed to be about demos as people tried to express their anger about what was being done to them or what was being done in their name. Resistance, whether passive or active, was in the air and in the end it was resistance to the poll tax that ended her career.
But the crushing of the trade unions, taking the law back to the nineteenth century, has left the ordinary worker helpless before the large employer. Work for nothing internships? Zero hours contracts? Immigrants used as virtual slave labour by gangmasters?
And then HMRC’s entirely toothless policing of the minimum wage legislation leaves even the worst employers untouched while it fiddles around with RTI to annoy those who are trying to comply.
We are still living in Thatcher’s Britain: and we are not the better for it.