Poor lose and rich gain from direct tax and benefit changes since 2010 – without cutting the deficit at all

The researchers, Paola De Agostini, John Hills and Holly Sutherland analysed the impact of benefit and direct tax changes since the UK general election in 2010 in detail.

The study found that:

  • the poorest income groups lost the biggest share of their incomes on average (and those in the bottom half of incomes lost overall).

  • In contrast, those in the top half of incomes gained from direct tax cuts, with the exception of most of the top 5 per cent – although within this 5 percent group those at the very top gained, because of the cut in the top rate of income tax.

  • In total the changes have not contributed to cutting the deficit. Rather, the savings from reducing benefits and tax credits have been spent on raising the tax-free income tax allowance.

  • The analysis challenges the idea that those with incomes in the top tenth have lost as great a share of their incomes as those with the lowest incomes.

Treasury analysis, suggesting that those at the top have lost proportionately most starts from January 2010 and therefore includes the effects of income tax changes at the top announced by Labour in 2009 and taking effect in April 2010, before the election.

But if the Coalition’s impacts are measured comparing the system in 2014-15 with what would have happened if the system inherited in May 2010, they have more clearly regressive effect.

This resulted from the combination of:

  • changes to benefits and tax credits making them less generous for the bottom and middle of the distribution;
  • changes to Council Tax and benefits from which those in the bottom half lost but the top half gained;
  • higher personal income tax allowances which meant the largest gains for those in the middle, but with some income tax increases for the top 5 per cent;
  • and the ‘triple lock’ on state pensions which were most valuable as a proportion of their incomes for the bottom half.

Some groups were clear losers on average – including lone parent families, large families, children, and middle-aged people (at the age when many are parents), while others were gainers, including two-earner couples, and those in their 50s and early 60s.

Holly Sutherland, Director of EUROMOD at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex commented:

“It is striking how seemingly technical issues or minor differences in assumptions like which tax system is taken as the starting point for Coalition reforms , or whether to assume 100% take-up of benefits, have very big implications for what we conclude about whether the rich or the poor were harder hit.”

John Hills, Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at LSE, commented:

“What is most remarkable about these results is that the overall effect of direct tax and benefit changes under the Coalition have not contributed to cutting the deficit. The savings from benefit reforms have been offset by the cost of raising the tax-free income tax allowance. But those with incomes in the bottom half have lost more on average from benefit and tax credit changes than they have gained from the higher tax allowance.”

The paper was prepared as part of CASE’s Social Policy in a Cold Climate programme which is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Nuffield Foundation and Trust for London. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders. The analysis uses the tax-benefit model, EUROMOD, based at the University of Essex

The publication is available to download from the LSE website


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