Wealth tax, take two?

Hard on the heels of the Sunday Times Rich List, will new proposals for a wealth tax gain any traction?

In 2020, a group of economic research bodies set up the Wealth Tax Commission to examine the options for a wealth tax to cover the huge costs then being incurred to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. The Commission produced a comprehensive report at the end of the year that suggested:

  • A one-off wealth tax (as opposed to annual);
  • A rate of 5%, payable at 1% a year for five years; and
  • The tax to be payable on all wealth above £500,000, including pensions and main residences.

The tax would have produced £260 billion in total, almost as much as income tax is projected to raise in 2023/24. While the proposals received considerable attention at the time, they were given the cold shoulder by the government and soon disappeared from view.

About two and a half years later, a new wealth tax proposal has been put forward by a group of three tax-campaigning organisations. Their launch came shortly after the latest Sunday Times Rich List was published, showing that 350 individuals and families together hold combined wealth of £796.5 billion.

The new wealth tax was substantially different from the Commission structure:

  • It would be an annual tax;
  • The rate would be 2%; and
  • It would only be payable on all wealth above £10 million.

The high threshold means that the annual amount raised each year would be less than the previous proposal – the campaigners suggested up to £22 billion, although the Commission’s 2020 research suggested a figure of around £17 billion for a similar structure– there are only around 22,000 individuals with wealth of greater than £10 million, according to the Commission.

Polling for one of the three organisations, undertaken by YouGov, showed 74% public support for the 2% wealth tax. Such a result is hardly surprising – most people are in favour of a tax from which they could only benefit.

This latest wealth tax proposal seems destined to suffer the same fate as its predecessor. Were the government to provide a counter argument, it could point out that the freezes it has made to the personal allowance and higher rate threshold alone will raise an extra £21.9 billion in 2023/24, rising to £25.5 billion by 2027/28.