Shrouds used to have pockets, you know. It was quite the done thing in Pagan times, to take all your wordily possessions with you, to enhance your life in the hereafter.
In Normandy, northern France, they have just dug up a burial site from the Frankish Merovingian era, and found that, contrary to earlier Pagan burials where villagers had taken their jewellery with them, the influence of the Christian church, which thought that you should leave your valuables behind in order to benefit the less fortunate – and the Church, naturally – meant that there were few artefacts to be found.
The rise of the sovereign state, and their squabbles with other nation states, introduced the idea of taxation – that you should hand over some of your money long before you died – in order to finance the needs of the state. Generally that meant a war and keeping the man at the top in the manner which he desired. At least it was a clearly defined purpose.
Nowadays we give the state £469 billion every year – and we don’t have a clue what they do with it. We know that they give some of it to the 50% of people in receipt of state aid. We know that they spend some of it on wars that we don’t want. We know that it is not enough for those at the top to live on…
Around £3 billion a year is ‘raised from the dead’…
We call it an ‘inheritance tax’, but that is a misnomer, since the estate pays it before any legacies and distributions are able to be paid. Not the ‘inheritors’ at all. Why don’t we call it a ‘death tax’ – that is what it is?
Now HM Revenue & Customs are concerned that some people may be finding ways of escaping this tax – and they are determined to put a stop to it.
Under a consultation published by HM Revenue & Customs, officials would have the power to force those suspected of using an avoidance scheme to reduce their IHT bill to make an “accelerated payment”.
The rules, which are already in place for other areas of tax avoidance, have raised fears that some savers will be treated as guilty until proven innocent.
So, the latest wheeze is to to apply the ‘death tax’ before you are dead…It is not so very different to the ‘wealth tax’ which we have here in France. Possibly related to the fact that, as a generation, we are just not dying fast enough. Once upon a time, a 100th birthday card from the Queen came as a pleasant surprise – these day you have to apply on-line, there are just too many people living to 100.
The Guardian has been pushing the idea for some time that the rich should be ‘soaked’ to give more to those who don’t work – recently they came up with a dozen tax proposals to take money from those who have accumulated it. Transaction taxes, land transfer taxes – the ever popular ‘mansion tax’, and inheritance tax.
Claire Reynolds, who is married to Jonathan Reynolds, the Labour shadow energy minister, advocates attempts to “squeeze the rich in a number of ways”, by varying the level of the mansion tax by region and ‘increasing inheritance tax’.
“Why be scared of it; they’re dead,” she said.
Quite, no votes to be lost there then.
Two rationales are offered. First, that social fairness and equity demands that money passed on in this way should be taxed, otherwise social inequality widens. Second, that ‘repairing’ the welfare state is going to be so expensive that tax rates must be significantly hiked.
But social inequality will be widened.
Take Mr Tarmacspreader. He can earn £700 a week with overtime, and spend the lot on holidays in Magaluf. He can live in a council flat, in Shoreditch and leave the tenancy to his children. His children will have had the benefit of every iPod, iMac, and iGizmo invented – because Mr Tarmacspreader has never wanted to save money, only wanting to give his children ‘everything he never had’. He didn’t have to pay for his care in old age – no savings. There will be no tax bill on his death. Indeed, if his children earn a few bob themselves, they can buy the freehold and sell it on free of tax.
His schoolfriend, Mr Lowgradeofficebod, earned exactly the same amount over his lifetime – but he saved money, he took out a mortgage on a small house in nearby Bethnal Green. His children didn’t do so well for goodies – but they did inherit his house, and his meagre savings – they had cared for him himself in his old age. Unfortunately for them, there was inheritance tax to be paid, so the executors had to sell the house.
The effect of inheritance tax will be to drive the middle class out of London. Those living in council property will remain, as will their children who are allowed to inherit a tenancy.
Life is full of inequalities – why should Kate Moss have been born so beautiful that she ‘wouldn’t get out of bed for else than £10,000’ to be photographed? Isn’t that an unfair advantage in life? Isn’t that an ‘accident of birth’? Should beauty be taxed?
Why should Becks have been born with the ability to kick a ball precisely where it was wanted – isn’t that an unfair advantage in life, to be able to spend your working life practising the sport that for others is just an occasional luxury? Should talent be taxed?
Where does this obsession with the money that the ‘rich have inherited’ leave lottery winners – they haven’t ‘worked hard all their life’ for their riches?
The ‘Mansion Tax’ always reminds me of the scene in Zhivagao where Omar Sharif returns to Moscow after fighting for the freedom of his country, to find that his parents have only been allocated one room in the family home by the Bolshevik government – the other rooms are now occupied by those who didn’t go away to fight for freedom…..
At least Zhivago could physically see the people he was being forced to give some of his ‘riches’ to…
Perhaps we could all be appointed one of life’s ‘unfortunates’ each; no more taxation, just a straight forward commitment to give them 50% of whatever we earn – but with a proviso that we be let off the hook of supporting them if they come up with a winning lottery ticket….
A quick search for ‘unemployed lottery winners’ returns 4,920,000 results – looks as though the 25% of us that are net ‘givers’ to the system are already paying for the lottery tickers.
I foresee a lot of ‘equity release plans’ whereby those with property borrow money against that property and then spend the money on helping their children indirectly – paying for their holidays, buying the children’s clothes, anything that won’t attract the ‘gift tax’.
And a lot of wills that say “After payment of my just debts . . . “