The Chancellor is trying to raise revenue because the Government’s policy of cutting public services has probably gone as far as it can go, if not too far. I hope, like me, he is ashamed of the way we are failing to care for the sick and vulnerable, to educate our children, to create jobs and housing for our young people and to act with humanity towards refugees. Unfortunately, in raising self-employed National Insurance contributions (NICs) he has once again chosen the wrong measures.
It seems fairly obvious that a sensible Government would increase the rate of income tax at this point, especially for higher earners and the better-off (as you point out in your editorial) so that there is enough revenue to finance the public services a rich country such as ours should be able to afford. For the record, I am one of the reasonably well-off pensioners that our young people rightly envy – and I am ready and willing to pay more income tax.
But, shock horror, it would be against a Conservative manifesto commitment, so again the same MPs would prevent it. They should not worry; less than 25 per cent of the electorate voted for that manifesto. And when the ship of state is sailing straight at an iceberg, a change of course by the captain will receive only applause from the passengers.
So the Tories have broken a manifesto promise. The Liberal Democrats did that few years ago over tuition fees, aided and abetted by their Tory coalition partners, and the party was decimated in the following election as a result. Let’s hope the electorate will remember this broken pledge and respond in the same way in 2020, or whenever the next election is called. We can but hope.
It may have been the right thing to do for the Government to raise National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, but it was morally illegitimate because it broke a Conservative manifesto pledge. However, this is nothing compared to the ongoing investigation by the Electoral Commission and the police into whether the Conservatives broke electoral law by accounting its 2015 general election battlebus expenses as national and not local expenditure.
If found guilty and a rerun of the election is called, it would morally illegitimatise the current Government and all that has flowed from it.The right thing to do now is for the Government to await the outcome of the police and Electoral Commission's investigation and judicial decision before proceeding with any major constitutional legislation.
Moving to a cashless society
Many self-employed people avoid tax by asking for cash payments. Yes, I expect lots scrupulously declare every cash payment within their annual tax return, and I know that many of the lower-paid self-employed are forced to take on that status by employers who wish to avoid the responsibilities required for PAYE employees. But please spare me the howls of self-righteous indignation because we all know that many regard “real money” as an automatic perk that accompanies their self-employed status, which takes away income from schools and hospitals.
In one sense, therefore, Hammond's raid on the self-employed could also be regarded as a back-door way of gathering undeclared tax. Except that it won't work, because those who already hide some cash income will now hide more, and some of the entirely honest traders may decide to hide some cash payments in retaliation.
The answer, of course, is to move as swiftly as possible to a cashless society, where no payment goes unrecorded. That won't happen until we have 100 per cent digital connectivity and easy payment systems. In the meantime, pluck up courage and resist requests for cash from obviously well-off self-employed people, and tell them why you'd prefer a cheque or bank transfer.
It’s easier to attack the vulnerable
Sean O’Grady is wrong to describe the self-employed as "morally bankrupt frauds". Employment has changed dramatically over the past decade. Many freelancers are the victims of corporate greed, the former employees of companies that remove expensive staff and retask them as self-employed workers. There is no realistic sick pay, no sensible pension contributions, no holiday pay and scant security. Reduced NICs enable this growing workforce to put money aside for emergencies.
It would be fair to levy a tax on corporations based on their use of freelancers. But it's easier to attack the vulnerable than the strong.
Not content with refusing to take any more child refugees from Europe, callously leaving them to an unknown fate unprotected by their parents, Theresa May's cruel Government has now put an 800 per cent tax on the solar panel industry and is encouraging oil and gas extraction at a time when the Earth's climate is at a crisis point from global warming. And I thought Donald Trump's policies were shocking! The Western world is badly in need of some enlightened moral leadership at the moment.
Ed Sheeran beats 1970s chart music
Unfortunately, David Barnett's argument is ultimately flawed when he cites the top 10 from this week in 1981, and especially his personal opinion that the music was better. Unfortunately he picked a bad week. Give me nine Ed Sheeran songs any day over that list – and I too am a granddad who remembers waiting to see if Slade would be number one in the 1970s.
Auckland, New Zealand
Trump is destroying the environment
By appointing global warming denier Scott Pruitt head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Donald Trump is undoing all of the good work in the field of American nature conservation, first started during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Trump is not only on track to destroy the world environment, but is catering to the interests of the 21st century American robber barons who will use the changes in environmental law and practice to further enrich themselves.
What next? Will he sell the national parks to pay for his planned tax cuts for the top 1 per cent?
George D Lewis