Unfair taxation opposition in British history


This punk rock music video from Britain in 1990 is The Exploited – Don’t pay the poll tax. The lyrics are here.

By Keith Flett in Britain:

Centuries of fighting taxes

Thursday 14 March 2013

The coalition’s bedroom tax, even as now amended by Iain Duncan Smith, will leave those in social housing facing a significant reduction in benefit income if they have the temerity to have an empty bedroom is one of the most vicious examples of government-imposed taxes in Britain.

Looking at the historical pattern we find that the government’s desire to levy extra taxes is mostly related to either the need to raise money during a period of economic crisis or to fund a war.

The first example of a tax deemed unfair by some, the decimation tax introduced by Cromwell in 1655, may not in fact seem that unfair to many.

It aimed to take 10 per cent of the property of supporters of the former King Charles I who had been executed in 1649 to fund a new system of civil order.

The decimation tax was unpopular with a far wider layer than just royalists. MPs refused to make it permanent in 1656 and it was abandoned in 1657.

When royal rule was restored in 1660 it was however far from an end to unfair taxes.

The hearth tax was introduced in 1662 – the new government was short of funds. Each fireplace was taxed at two shillings. It was abolished after the 1688 Glorious Revolution.

However the window tax soon followed in 1696. Evidence of the impact of this tax can still be seen around Britain with Georgian houses having some windows blocked up to avoid tax. It had to be abolished in 1851 – the same year the all-glass Crystal Palace opened – because it was impeding the growth of glass manufacturing, an essential element of the development of a market economy.

The 18th century was keen on taxes that hit elements of property – mainly of the better off.

There was a tax on painted, patterned or printed wallpaper at one shilling a square yard from 1712 to 1836. A little later came the brick tax (1784-1850) that levied four shillings tax on every thousand bricks.

Again neither tax survived the rise of the market economy in Britain.

Two more taxes from that period that also had to go were the hat tax (1784-1811) and the candle tax (1709-1831).

There were taxes that affected the wider population. A soap tax levied at one penny a pound of soap was introduced in 1711 and repealed in 1853.

The Stamp Act of 1765 brought in a tax on playing cards and dice. It was not repealed until August 4 1960.

With the rise of industrial society and the development of a working class the government looked to widen its tax base.

Income tax, introduced by Pitt in 1799 to fund the Napoleonic wars, clearly hit the better off harder. It was abolished in 1816 but reintroduced by Peel in 1842 to deal with a budget deficit.

Over time – in effect from the Chartist Manifesto of 1851 – the labour movement has backed the principle that state taxation should fund public services for the benefit of all.

The success rate of unfair taxes aimed at the less well off and on a broad basis remains less happy as the imposition and swift abolition of the poll tax after mass protests in the early 1990s reminds us.

The bedroom tax here falls into the “double whammy” category. It is both a silly and illogical tax – although perhaps not quite as bad as the beard tax introduced by Henry VIII in 1535 – and it also hits a wider layer of society.

The historical record indicates that protest followed by abolition will be its fate.

16 thoughts on “Unfair taxation opposition in British history

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