I’ve now been in full-time paid employment for four weeks, which is the first time in nearly a decade since this has been true. While I am not suited to normal office hours, and therefore struggle with things like getting enough sleep, overall I seem to be coping okay and there are few things that feel really good. Things that make me feel like a proper grown up.
It’s not the work. It’s not the wages. It’s the things that go with that in a modern society. Things that too many people see as penalties or impositions, but I see as a badge of maturity and pride.
Basically, I’m talking about: paying taxes; paying National Insurance contributions; paying for my NHS prescription at the pharmacy.
Although I am paid the National Living Wage, it’s not actually enough to live independently for a person at my stage in life, in the area where I live. I could just about afford a single room in a shared house, but I am well past living as a student: I can live in a room in a shared house already, with my parents!
Be that as it may, I am proud to see on my payslip that I am now helping to pay for society, and not taking (I haven’t even got around to claiming tax credits!)
When you pay tax, you say, “I am able to support others. I am an adult, a grown-up, a responsible person.” This is how it feels to me, anyway. Paying tax is a big thing. It’s a sign of success, of playing my part. I guess I feel that way because for a long time I have not been able to. I haven’t been asked to. I’ve been unemployed. A friend through my sister spent a long time on one of the benefits for being too ill to work (I forget which) and she shared her joy when her doctor finally found medication that worked for her and she could start work, in exactly those terms: “I get to pay tax! It’s great!” We share that emotion. Taxation as a plus, a thing that lifts us up.
So when people run to the politicians who promise to cut taxes, and don’t look at the flipside of cutting services or selling them off to private companies, of leaving the worst off stranded and unsupported because they are deemed “undeserving” – well, you can imagine the side-eye looks I’m giving.
They seem no different than the child who wants nothing but dessert for every meal, or who sulks at being asked to help clearing the table afterwards. Or worse, the attitude from the very wealthy is like the child who reasons that they’ve helped with the chores so they don’t have to be the one to help out with anything else.
It might be stretching a point somewhat to quote St Paul’s famous passage about maturity in the spirit (1 Corinthians 13:11): “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (Quoted from the NIV) But all the same, the principle stands. When you are mature enough, successful enough, and part of society enough, to be asked to pay tax – you are no longer a child, and you should abandon the selfish, childish ways. Accept and revel in your tax bill as a sign that you are a grown-up. And if your tax bill is big, then that just makes you even bigger. Trying to duck out of it just makes you a child, unfit to have the position and wealth you crave so much.
Tax was not always thus: and for the poorest, it can indeed be a problem when governments impose, with regressive taxation such as VAT, or by taking so much that it’s impossible to make ends meet on the lowest incomes. But in a progressive tax system, to be able to pay tax and to be asked to pay tax should be a point of pride.
I wasn’t a freeloader when I was claiming benefits: I wanted to be able to pay my way. I wanted to work. Now I am working, I am proud to pay back for what I received. But those who avoid tax, or vote for lower taxes, they are freeloaders, childish, shameful.
Pay Your Taxes With Pride should be a slogan, if it isn’t already.