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Why I am happy with my council tax…

February 23rd, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 6 Comments · Politics

…well, sort of.

As with all types of taxation, it depends on how you look at it. I am one of the fortunate people who does not actually get much back for my tax. Being gainfully employed and generously rewarded I am not in need of many of the services offered as safety nets.

Some people in my position are fixated with the idea that everyone should get something out of the system proportionate to what they put in. I am not sure that they really do look at a single mother with a couple of youngsters, who draws benefit, who may well have a decent TV and DVD player but only by making sacrifices in other areas, who spends half her week queueing in the Post Office or the doctor’s surgery or at the bus stop, and feel envious of them merely because they gain more in benefits than they pay in taxes. And yet that is the impression you get from what I shall lazily call the Daily Mail tendency.

Yes, some people are net gainers in the tax/services equation and some are net payers, but as a net payer I do not feel like a loser: I am actually pleased and relieved to be in that position.

But even having said that, and even though I use fewer council services than many, I don’t think I get such a bad deal.


As far as the borough part of council tax is concerned, I will pay something like £179 this year, which works out at around £14.91 a month or £3.44 a week. I think I am getting a good deal just by having my rubbish collected!

If there was no council collection I would have to throw smelly black sacks in the car every so often and go to the other side of town to dump them at the tip. (On the way I would pass piles of festering crap left everywhere by those who couldn’t be bothered or physically couldn’t make it). And even then I would have to pay to be allowed to leave my trash there if it was not being funded from the county’s portion of my taxes.

Alternatively I could pay someone to come round once a week and collect whatever I have in the rubbish bags, and collect all my recycling. If someone charged me £3.44 to do that I would be quite pleased and surprised.

That is only one council service and arguably I get my money’s worth from my borough council’s slice of the tax just for that.

I don’t directly use a lot of the other services provided, but whatever I may use, even if I am not aware of it, is a bonus as far as I am concerned – I’ve already got at least £3.44 worth of benefit. With some services, like the subsidies to keep the football stadium, Hawth theatre, and Tilgate nature centre running I may not visit them much but I feel that my quality of life is better through having them available for whenever I do want to use them, and the same goes for many other services.

Even services I do not use, and hope never to use, work in my favour. It may be selfish, but I like the fact that the council’s housing department will work to find somewhere for homeless people – it makes a night out in town much more pleasant when you are not tripping over sleeping bags in every doorway.

Other services relate to the general environment. Crawley may not be the most picturesque place in the country but its far better than the reputation it is lazily given. The town centre is kept clean, there are floral displays everywhere, trees protected from destruction, and it all makes the place worth living in. (Shame about all the shopping trolleys everywhere outside the town centre though)

And if I go out to eat, it is reassuring that someone has visited the kitchens each year to check for environmental health quality… there are loads of other benefits I am getting but I have already decided that I have enough in return for my £3.44 a week (for four people).

County Council

This year I will pay the county council about £1050. I am instinctively less happy about that, after all its a much larger amount, but trying to be positive its about twenty quid a week – and there are four of us in the house so its only a fiver a week each.

My first thought is that I don’t get a lot in return: I don’t even use the library as I prefer to buy books and still have them at hand after I have read them, but at the moment I do still use the education service, having two kids at school. Twenty quid a week to have our two educated is not too bad (yes OK – plus a proportion of income tax as well).

But thats not enough is it? In a little over a year we might have no kids in school – though I hope they will stay on for further education – so what else do I get?

Well for a start I am getting everyone else’s kids educated. For most of the day, for half the year, they are off the streets and they are getting educated. As a result I am in a more literate, better-informed, more civilised place. No I am not saying this place and all the people in it are perfect, but we are much closer to perfection than to total chaos.

The county also look after roads and I drive a car. I don’t actually drive it much, but when I do I can go wherever I like because roads are there for me. Roads are not something you can have supplied on demand: they have to exist even when they are not being used at all so they are ready for when you need them. So part of my twenty quid a week is providing me with a network of roads I can use whenever I feel like – and another part is going towards putting crossings and traffic lights in so that I can cross them safely when I am not driving, and so our children can cross them safely, which means they can make their own way to school and we don’t have to drive them there. And roads are not cheap.

Talking of the children, one service we do make some use of is Youth Services. Charlie goes to a club which operates every Friday at the Dormans Youth Centre. Some of the children there are quite seriously physically or mentally disadvantaged. When I turn up to collect Charlie and a girl who lives over the road I can see how much effort has gone into keeping them amused, entertained and occupied for the evening. For most of them it is a highlight of the week, and also a chance for parent to have a break – no matter how much they love their children I am sure they welcome that.

I realise it sounds mawkish, but some weeks when I turn up a bit early and see the club operating and see the sheer pleasure on the faces of the more seriously disabled children i feel close to tears. If you asked me at that moment I would probably be happy to be paying twenty quid a week just to know that sort of thing is happening.

While I am at Dormans I can see from the noticeboards and from talking to the staff how much else goes on there and what great facilities they have there. Even if ours are not using those facilities, I am glad they are there and providing some positive and cultural outlets for other children. I would much rather they were learning to mix & scratch than to break windows.

Bearing in mind that the county council is run by Tories, that I don’t like them, and that I think they could do a better job (much better in some cases), and even though I still suspect that the town of Crawley contributes more to the county than it gets out, and even though I am a net payer I still think I am getting a decent return for the fiver a week which is down to me.

Its a bit of a case of “what did the Romans ever do for us?”. There are lots of services I do not use, and hope never to use – like Social Services, the Fire Brigade and the mental health services (debatable I know, but so far they have not caught up with me) but I am perfectly happy to fund them not only in case I do ever need them but because I believe that I am happier knowing that those who do need them are being catered for.

And again there are invisible services making life better – like Trading Standards making it less likely I will get ripped off.

Sussex Police

This is another of those services which we hope not to use directly, but like to have around in case they are needed. Again they are not perfect, they do not prevent all crimes or catch all the criminals, but I am sure I am less likely to be robbed, attacked or killed by a speeding car just by virtue of their being around, and sure that if I was robbed/attacked/killed it is more likely those responsible would be caught. Not a sure thing of course, but more likely.

I will be paying about £122 a year for the Police. I could get worked up about it, or I could decide that actually I am paying 60p a week per person in the house for all that protection.

They could improve, and I hope they do, but I reckon that I’m getting a good deal for my personal thirty quid a year.


Not that I am totally happy about council tax of course. Even though we are not heavy users of services we are splitting the bill four ways so it feels better if you look at it that way, but those who are on their own do get less of a good deal. (I would still argue that they are not totally ripped off: no man is an island and there is such a thing as society. Isn’t it better to live like everyone else in a safe society than to live like a king but afraid to venture beyond the palace walls?)

My biggest issue with council tax is the regressive nature of it. It is related purely to the size of house, with no account taken of income, and it is effectively capped – once you are in the top band (and paying only three times what it would cost for the tiniest shit-hole imaginable) you can’t pay any more. You can build a new wing or three and fill them with dozens of relatives and the total tax would still be only three times the minimum. There is something wrong there, and some form of land tax would be preferably in my opinion. Even the Lib Dems’ impractical local income tax would be better.

But even with my reservations about how it is being spent, and how it is calculated and how it still hurts to fork out £135 a month for ten months of the year, and even though some of it is undoubtably wasted, I can’t say I am not getting enough in return.

And that is why I am irritated, angry even, that those in charge can be willing to risk the effectiveness of some of those services, especially those serving the most needy, for the sake of a few quid in order to make a political gesture that is largely ignored anyway. Given all the benefits that even a light user of local services like me gets, should I worry about whether a £1350 bill is closer to £1355? Will I be happy counting my fiver a year saving if I know it was at the expense of a Town Hall cleaner’s job and livelihood? Or at the expense of a small local set of play equipment?

I realise that for some people every single penny counts and even a fiver a year is significant – and it is plain wrong that when taxes rise those people are affected by the same amount as those who for whom a fiver is less than what they would tip their hairdresser, but thats the regressive nature of the tax coming into play again.

This is not a call to increase tax just for the sake of it. By all means spend it carefully, waste as little as possible, but if there is still not enough cash in the pot to do everything there is an option to ask for more and not just leave some things not done.

At the end of the day it is a matter of attitude. You can look at council tax – or any other taxes -purely in terms of what you are personally paying or look up from the pages of the Daily Mail and see what is being provided for society, of which we are all part whether we like it or not. For me this goes to the root of my reasons for supporting and joining the Labour party, and staying in it.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Ash

    Skuds you say:

    “Given all the benefits that even a light user of local services like me gets, should I worry about whether a £1350 bill is closer to £1355?”

    But it isn’t just a the odd fiver – your memory seems a bit suspect if you can forget that council Tax has doubled since Labour came to power.

    The continual increase in tax demand by the government, for very little return, is a worry to most working familes – unless they are members of the Labour Party perhaps?

  • Danivon

    Your memory fails you, Ash. Crawley’s Council Tax has increased by 82% since 1997 (before the current rises). The vast bulk of those increases have been to the County Council proportion, and the Tories have been the largest party in Chichester since West Sussex had a council.

    As it is, Income Tax has fallen since 1997. VAT was reduced on fuel bills. Tax relief to working families has increased.

    In return, those families have seen new schools built in Crawley – and nationwide – improving the accomodation (did you have to take classes in portakabins, because I did in the 1980s?) and facilities.

  • Ash

    Danivon – I was talking about countrywide taxes.

    As for Income tax falling well I can only assume your havin’ a laugh. The ONS last year said that taxes on income are now absorbing £23.60 of every £100 earned. This tax level is before other indirect and “stealth” taxes, such as council tax and stamp duty, are taken into account.

    The figure shows how the amount taken by the Government has been ratcheted up since 1997. When Labour came to power, the level of taxes on income was at a low of 18.7 per cent.

    Anyway – even the most committed party member must admit that the tax burden is at its highest level since the mid-80’s and still rising – how much more money do you want to take off us?

  • Danivon

    The rate of Income Tax has gone down for most people. The richest are paying a little more in National Insurance. Tax loopholes have been closed whereby contractors were taking home upwards of £30,000 tax and NI free, which was a bit rich for those of us who had to work alongside them as they moaned about the NHS.

    Not to mention that wages have gone up, which means that people are getting higher incomes overall, often with a much better take home result now than before (especially at the lower end of incomes).

    VAT was reduced for utilities, and Corporation Tax was cut, which are both fairly major ‘indirect taxes’.

    Even so, it’s not a question of how much to take, it’s a question of what services do people want, and how are they provided.

    Of course, we could also note the huge PSBR pre 1997, the running out of North Sea Oil profits and the tax cuts of the Tories which benefitted the rich while running down services, not least of which was the police force.

  • Skuds

    I don’t have figures to hand, but I am sure I saw something recently about overall tax levels being about the same as when Thatcher was around.

    Apart from it being a matter of attitude, it is also a matter of language, and terms like “tax burden” and “stealth tax” are a fair indication of a mind already made up.

    I’m not sure what a stealth tax is exactly but I am sure it is not council tax which is extremely visible.

    During the 80s we had one of the largest rises in tax – when VAT went up to 17.5% and was added to energy bills. Not only was this large but it was disproportionately aimed at those on lower wages.

    As for council tax, maybe one reason I am happy with it from a personal financial perspective is because it is so unfair, with me paying exactly the same as a hypothetical neighbour earning half of what I do.

    Whether or not income tax has increased (which I don’t think it has) it is the case that for many people there has been a huge increase in wealth, which has been completely untaxed.

  • Jane Skudder

    Anybody who honestly thinks council tax is a stealth tax must be shocked to wake up every morning to find they are still themselves. None of these taxes could really be called stealthy – as I’m sure you’ve all noticed the Daily Mail spends most of its time with screaming headlines about them!