Taxing times

Posted: December 4, 2011 in Features and opinion, Journalism, Random wifflings
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago I filled out my tax return. My lord, what a horrible shock awaited me at the end. Although the amount of money I owed was cause for night sweats – it is not a huge amount of money, but it’s all proportional – it was the complexity of the tax system that got me thinking about, oh, loads of stuff, but largely the decline and fall of the west, in a super-optimistic kind of way, or Why Our Tax System Is One Of The Many Reasons To Learn Mandarin Now. Not a snappy title for a manifesto, accurate to my feelings nevertheless.

I will try not to lapse into rage-fuelled profanity, but I may slip up.

For a start, the tax system is mind-bendingly overly complicated, and complication can only lead to abuse. Kudos is due to HMRC for their online tax form , because it actually makes the complex relatively simple. On the other hand, you can see how large companies with wily accountants can avoid paying all but the most nominal amounts of tax.

My shock at my tax bill actually came about because I’d misinterpreted one of the few loopholes available to we lesser people, you know, people who aren’t banks staffed by braying rich bastards. To whit, if you’re a creative like me, then you can spread your tax over two years. Great! I thought. Then: Ooh no, shitbollockswhat? as it turns out you can’t be doing that unless you’ve been self-employed since before April 2009. Fucking awesome. Bang went me low tax bill. Added to that one of my main contractors was compelled to put me on their payroll during 2012 in a manner that does not take into account my citizen’s right to £7000 tax-free earnings, thus sapping two-thirds of the money I intended to save for my 2010-2011 tax. So, higher bill, no money put aside.

We were looking at a very deep hole indeed my friend. Still, I soldiered on, and I discovered many weird exemptions along the way. My favourite example: Did you know divers and diving instructors are exempt certain bits of tax? What high-powered lobby group did they employ to get that?! Did Neptune, King of the Sea write to his MP and promise wrath and tidal waves and so forth if they didn’t get a flipper allowance?

I exploded into rage when I discovered that not only did our government want me to cough up all of 2010-2011’s money owed, but also half of 2011-2012’s tax bill, all by the end of January. NO FUCKING WAY. I couldn’t pay my tax bill because I’d been heavily taxed at source during 2012 and now it looked like they wanted that tax AGAIN. I’d get it back, but as they wanted this “payment on account” before I’d fill in my 2011-2012 return and explain that I’d already paid up, I’d have to claim it back. Not that I’d be able to claim it back, because I wouldn’t be able to pay it in the first place. Mostly because they already had the money.

My fury at large companies that can have cosy little chats with high-up civil servants and talk their way out of funding our massive, uneducated underclass so I can do it instead became bloodthirsty and priapic (not me, my fury. What it was going to do with that hard-on of anger I shudder to think).

Luckily, it doesn’t work like that, I’d effectively already paid this part of next year’s tax, and so didn’t have to cough up the payment on account, so that was okay. But it wasn’t immediately apparent. Of course, I could have paid a tax consultant to make it immediately apparent, but I can’t afford to.

Later, in a bit of a break, a friend told me that my contractor was as obliged to pay me holiday pay as they were obliged to tax me (and pay national insurance to employ me etc, all because I do a minimal amount of work in their offices). Maybe they feel hard done by, because they don’t actually tell you this, you have to find it out for yourself. I felt some sympathy for them. Although I have the legal right to holiday pay do I really deserve it? But then I thought about all the massively long hours I was expected to work when I was employed full-time at this same company, with no renumeration, and that their freelance rates haven’t gone up for 14 years, and I thought, sod ’em.

And that’s what had me in a funk. We’ve so many rights, our companies have so many obligations, and there are so many special interest groups trying to weasel their way out of either, or both. We wage serfs try to eat and afford one shit holiday a year, our employees try to stay competitive enough to pay their board members ludicrous wages, and the government has to carry on paying Sharon from Lakeside to have a thousand badly behaved children because if they don’t they’ll be more riots. Oh, and they need the money to wage a few post-imperial wars. It’s got to come from somewhere, and it’s certainly not coming from our tax-havened megarich.

What happened to the simple equation of: I work eight hours, you give me £40, I give the government £5, I go home in time and get to have a life? Instead we have: We pay you to work eight hours, but we actually pretty much demand you work eleven, because IT has meant the forty people that used to be needed to do your job in eight hours has been reduced to three, and we thought we’d make it one. Anyway, we have to give you stuff we aren’t going to tell you about unless we have to, and our CEO wants three Porsches. Then you can give the government £4.57, unless you have a tractor, the King of The Fish has your back, or it’s a Tuesday.

And why is it like this? Because we’re all egocentric twats. Me included. Society is a glorious wooden temple riddled with the worms of self-interest. I have enormous sympathy for the recent strikers, and the same time I think they are being monumentally selfish. We’re all in the shit, what makes you so special? Oh, sorry, it’s you.

What further boggles the mind is that nobody had the foresight to see that in a world where wages are the highest cost part of a process, the jobs will always go where its cheaper to do whatever those people doing those jobs are doing. That the more rights a workforce accrues, the more expensive they become, and the more likely those jobs are to leave. And why does this happen? Partly because our corporate mindset has become detached from the societal body it sits in, but mostly because we as ‘consumers’ (Jesus, I hate that term) would rather pay £50 for a pair of trainers made in some sweatshop by a worker on $1 a day than £70 for a pair made by a worker in Bury with full rights. That’s as big a reason as the company that makes them demanding a 70% mark-up.

We are all. Selfish. Twats. It really isn’t just the bankers. And that applies equally to The News of The World phone hacking scandal (who bought the papers and created the demand? The morally outraged Great British Public) as it does to the rising cost of what was horribly under-priced milk, rubbish on the beaches, the plague of  hoody youth crims and so on. Everyone must have prizes, so nobody actually does. Except bankers.

The effects of the industrial and informational revolutions continue to ripple around the Earth. In an ideal world, the upheaval stops when everyone is equally prosperous. What will probably happen is that prosperity will slosh dangerously across the globe like water in a rocked bowl, leaving environmental degradation, overpopulation and social collapse in its wake. The cycle will then start anew from a lower basepoint. Repeat until Earth is dead. In a century’s time the Chinese will be employing starveling Mancunians to make novelty plastic apes for peanuts. In two centuries’ time we’ll be smashing each other’s faces in with rocks to steal peanuts.

When will we learn? We’re all monkeys. The sooner we stop insisting we can just groom ourselves, the sooner we’ll stop falling out of the fucking tree.

Go on, think beyond your own interests. At the very least it’ll make my tax return easier to fill out.

I address some of this stuff in my books Reality 36 and Omega Point. I’m not Charles Stross or Cory Doctorow, but it’s there dudes, it’s all there.

  1. Simon Morden says:

    (this might all be completely wrong, but something doesn’t stack up here)

    If I’m reading your post correctly, your main contractor has taxed your income on an emergency tax code (that is, 0), effectively taxing you at 23% (or whatever) on your earnings from them.

    You have already paid tax on that income, therefore you need to take that into account. Not only do you not get taxed twice on it, you have over-paid your tax on those earnings. Everyone is entitled to the first 7k untaxed. So – get your P60, check how much gross you earned, add that to all your other earnings, take your personal allowance off, then calculate the amount of tax you need to pay on the residual. Then take off the amount of tax you’ve already paid via PAYE through your contractor from the tax you owe.

    Does that make any sense?

    • guyhaley says:

      Aye, I know. The scary part was that taxed wage was for 2011-2012, I was doing my return for 2010-2011. Having been ’emergency taxed’ I found I could escape the first payment in hand (whatever they call it) they were demanding up front (pre tax return) for 2011-2012. At first I thought I’d have to pay 2010-2011, then half 2011-12 and claim that latter payment back. I don’t. Thanks for the concern though!

  2. Matt Keefe says:

    You might like to consider other uses and meanings of the word ‘mandarin’ before choosing it as a language suggestive of lesser bureaucracy, old chap…

    • guyhaley says:

      You seriously think I mean to imply that the Chinese have a lesser bureaucracy than ours? Ahahahahahahaha! No way man! I’m not that dumb. No comparison! I’m sure you need thirteen permits just to cut the grass in Beijing, but they have advantages we do not. Besides, their technocrats can ignore their own rules when it suits them.
      Oh, hang on, that’s what our leaders do too…

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