The BBC’s Question Time has once again delivered a stunning example of ill-advised audience participation – after a clip of a man claiming his £80,000 wage didn’t make him a high earner was absolutely monstered on social media.
The as-yet unidentified gentleman actually had the support of some of the audience at the beginning of his rant, as he pointed his finger at Labour MP Richard Burgon and called his party “liars” over their manifesto pledge to tax the rich to pay for “real change” in Britain.
“I am one of the people he will tax more,” he said.
”I am one of them people that he will tax more and I am nowhere near in the top 5 per cent – nowhere near even the top 50%.”
On a bit of a roll, he added: “You’re not going after the billionaires – you’re going after the employees where it’s easy money because it’s PAYE [Pay As You Earn]. I have no choice.”
His words were met with a round of applause from the audience, presumably heartened at the thought of a struggling average Joe from Bolton sticking one to the politicians.
“I’d like to call out Labour as liars. I am one of the people he will tax more”— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) November 21, 2019
This audience member, who earns over £80,000, criticises the taxation promises in the Labour Party manifesto. #bbcqt pic.twitter.com/jKJtz2QlqL
Burgon, with the confidence of a man who had actually read his party’s manifesto, responded: “We’re not going to raise income tax for anybody except for the top 5% of earners, so we’re not going to increase your income tax.”
“Well, you are,” the man responded. “I’ve read your policy – it’s above £80,000, and I am nowhere near in the top 5%, let me tell you.”
At this point a few doubts set in and the applause and solidarity from the man’s fellow audience members turned into silence.
Host Fiona Bruce stepped in to clarify what was beginning to dawn on some.
“Let’s just be clear – you’re saying that you [Burgon] would raise tax on those earning over £80,000, and you’re saying that would affect you [man in audience] because you earn over that sum?”
“Yes,” the man defiantly responded. “And I’m not in the top 5 per cent.”
A murmur of “yes, you are” rippled through the audience.
God I would love to earn £80,000 a year! My husband and I run a 2 man business, work hard and earn not a fraction of that! yet every year we pay Corporation tax and happy and willing to pay more so we are all secure! I just don't understand.— Josie Hall (@JosieHarvey14) November 22, 2019
Things got even worse for the man, but we’ll come to that later – first, here are some facts.
As you may have already surmised, £80,000 is quite a tidy sum to be paid.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the median wage in the UK in 2019 was £24,897.
This means that in the UK, 50% of the working population earn less than this amount – called the 50th percentile – and 50% earn more than it.
To work out which percentile someone belongs to, you move up or down percentiles until you get to the one closest to the wage you’re looking at.
To get near £80,000, you have to go quite a way – up to the 96th percentile, in fact, which is £78,254.
That means the gentleman complaining his wage would be taxed higher under a Labour government is richer than 96% of the population.
Currently the 95th percentile, above which Labour plans to increase tax, is £71,292.
And if you’re curious, to be in the top 1% of earners in the UK, you have to earn £133,962.
Now, obviously, there are people who earn way, way more than this, but there are very few of them out of a total UK working population of 32.54m people.
Now back to Question Time, where our intrepid audience member is about to make things even worse for himself.
After insisting he’s not in the top 5% of earners (reminder: he most definitely is), he tried to justify his assertion with some dubious claims.
“Every doctor in the country earns more than that,” he claimed.
Again, this is not true – according to employment website indeed.com, the average GP salary in 2019 was £63,567 which puts them in the 93rd percentile and out of reach of Labour’s tax plans.
The man went on: ”Every doctor, every accountant, every solicitor earns more than that, that’s not [the top] 5%.
This is even wider of the mark – the average accountant’s salary in 2019 was £32,415 and for solicitors it’s £39,518 – way below the top five percentiles.
Then it got even worse. Burgon reiterated his (correct) point that if you earn more than £80,000 you are in the top 5% of earners, to which the man scoffed: ”The top 5% don’t even work, because they’re rich, right? They don’t even pay... they’re not employed.”
HuffPost UK could find no data to support this theory.
But Burgon – who as an MP earns £79,468, also the 96th percentile – finished the segment with an olive branch of sorts for the high earner.
“The enemy of someone who is on £80,000 a year isn’t someone earning £20,000 or £25,000,” he said.
“The problem is a billionaire, for example, and we’re told these people are wealth creators, but on the average wage in this country it would take 30,000 years to get a billion pounds, and that would be if you didn’t spend a single penny.
“The people getting away with murder are the billionaires.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.