“That’s why I pay my council tax!”

I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot recently. Sometimes there are phrases that appear to catch your ears and keep recurring in conversation and “that’s why I pay my council tax” is one such phrase for me.

It implies a transactional nature about taxation (in general) – that I deserve to get out at least the amount that I put in. Which is odd really given that for the most part this was never, is never and will never be the case. In fact taxation as far as I understand it, is pretty much an acceptance of re-distribution in the United Kingdom through the welfare state and other public services. We accept that although we are all born equal we don’t all live equal, and that is is better for me as an individual and the functioning of our society if I pay tax into a system that goes some (if not all the way) to ensuring none of our fellow citizens are left behind. I like that I live in a country that in theory is set up to do this.

In practice though, we of course see many attempts to either not pay tax, or in more extreme cases essentially engineer state subsidies through tax regulations that were never set up to defend themselves. After all, why would they? Why would someone actively try and undermine equality in our society when it is generally good for life in all its elements?

Why indeed? I’m a purist sort of chap. I don’t think that there are that many malevolent people in the world. I don’t even think that there are that many stupid people either. I do think (myself very much included) that we are very ill informed. It struck me that no-one ever explained the welfare state to me at school and why it exists. And I mean beyond its historical interest – actually why it is a fabric of our society.

Which brings me back to the phrase I keep hearing. At first I was annoyed by the Tax Payer Alliance tubthumping of it all. And then I realised that I wouldn’t mind hearing it more often if people said it when we saved an older person from a nasty fall, or re-housed the homeless or provided payments to a family so that they wouldn’t starve that week. To be honest, if i’m that worried about the cleanliness of my streets or disposing of my rubbish, I can do that myself (or pay for it myself). Making a difference to the lives of my fellow citizens, yeah, that’s why I pay my council tax.

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