IMAGINE, just imagine, that you received the following letter from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in a few year's time. Is it really so fanciful?
From the HMRC
To: Mrs. Mungo Mackay
Knock and Ring House
Come and Go Mansions
September 26 2016
Dear Mrs. Mackay
We have reason to believe that your tax return for 2014-15 is incomplete.
To determine both your tax underpayment for this year and your tax code going forward, we need to know the following:
- Your pension income from the late Mr Mackay’s pension plan
- The lump sum left to you by the late Mr Mackay in his Will
- Dividend and interest income received from the investment of this sum.
We believe that your income for this year may thus have been in excess of £50,000 and liable for the Equitable Austerity Excessive Income Tax charge for this year.
In addition we believe you held in common with your late husband a weekend cottage in Aberfeldy, Perthshire. As 100 per cent of this asset has now fallen to you together with any paintings, jewellery, goods and chattels thereto, we believe your estate is now comfortably in excess of £1 million and thus liable for the Austerity Equitable Surplus Assets Tax. To assess the accurate amount an assessor will be visiting the property and your co-operation will be required. Alternatively you can sign and complete the simple Form of Equitable Renunciation in favour of HMRC enclosed with this letter.
Further to the withdrawal of universal benefits since April 5 2014 you fall liable for the Equitable Universal Benefits Levy which is a tax on any continued use of outstanding bus travel, winter fuel allowance, pensioners’ TV licence benefits and other such unearned “free” benefits enjoyed in that year. This has been assessed in your case at £1,859.36. A fine of six per cent on the outstanding unpaid balance will be levied from one week from the date of this letter.
Equitable Austerity Tax Officer
ABSURD, of course - I hope. But having been subjected over three consecutive days to proposals from senior Liberal Democrats at their party conference this week ranging from a Mansion Tax (revisited); an additional income tax for “the wealthy” starting variously at £50,000 or £60,000; the withdrawal of universal “free” benefits from “well-to-do” pensioners, and a vague scheme to finance house purchase for children or grandchildren out of what residual income may be left, I’ve been minded to check when my passport needs renewing.
All this leaves a nasty impression that the Liberal Democrats hate older folk who may have had the temerity to squirrel away a little more than what Nick Clegg decides is good for them. Short of seizing all old people and melting them down for rubber tires, the next best thing seems to be expropriation of their ill-gotten assets until they lose the will to live and simply sign them over to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Perhaps that nice Mr Cable could add a generous come-on like a free lottery ticket.
We can laugh at all this, but the truth is not much of a laughing matter. Britain trundles on towards its moment of truth, as if in the dining car of the Downton Abbey Express. Up in First Class its still all sumptuous cushions and candelabra, but we’re supposed to be slowing down, not speeding up. It’s like a journey on a runaway train with the window blinds drawn, the lights dimmed and the intercom working but fitfully. Now and again it crackles into life with a new budget deficit figure and some dark warning from the driver. How strange that the latest figure of “only” £14 billion for August drew a burst of applause from the passengers because it wasn’t as much as we feared. Wasn’t it supposed to be going down? But that was a long time ago on the Downton Abbey Express.
Well, flying on we go, faster and faster, the wheels beating a hypnotic rhythm over the track: “a-trillion-and-one, a-trillion-and-two” and we can barely imagine what the scenery will be by the time we reach the next stop.
Stop, did I say? I can’t be the only one detecting a modicum of apprehension up front. There’s no sign of stopping at all. Spending carries on up, the welfare bill breaks new records, it’s like the train in that great Emile Zola novel, the steaming iron beast screaming at the top of its voice across the flat indifferent countryside: “More coal! More coal!”
We are nowhere near in control of the public finances – the finances this coalition vowed to bring under control. The debt is bigger and the deficit is growing by the month. Whatever austerity there is, it’s not hitting where it matters.
And this is why I fear Nick Clegg and his party may be right. Is it really too fanciful to imagine that within the next three or four years we will have abandoned “free” universal benefits for “the rich”, introduced a Wealth Tax and brought in a Mansion Tax, not because these things work - we know that they don’t - but because these will be the political price for acceptance of greater cuts to what we have come to regard as the inviolable welfare state? To make the majority pay, the minority must be seen to be flayed within an inch of its life. All aboard the Downton Abbey Express? There’s no easy way to step off now.