Gordon Brown and David Miliband are preparing to tax the poor off the road with plans for "a substantial increase in vehicle excise duty for higher-emissions vehicles" according to a leaked document in this morning's Mail on Sunday. The document, from Miliband to Brown, outlines a number of areas where the intention is to heavily tax everyone in an attempt to make them more environmentally friendly. It's not so much a stick as a baseball bat, and there is no carrot. Key proposals are:
- Substantial increase in road tax - bizarrely arguing that this will be an incentive to buy low emission cars. Which may be true for someone able to afford a new car, but won't be for low-income family of four driving a 10 year old Mondeo. I guess they're expected to catch a bus in our "integrated transport system".
- Remove the freeze on the fuel escalator by arguing it will create price stability of oil. I'm not quite sure how the tax on fuel in the UK impacts the global oil price, but that is the argument in the document.
- Total "road-user pricing". Basically a per journey charge to use roads which has massive technological and surveillance implications.
- Using Council Tax to target owner-occupiers who have have high emission homes. That basically means punishing those who live in period property.
- Putting VAT on air fares.
- Introducing an air passenger tax. That on top of the tax already, and presumably VAT.
- No stamp duty on purchases of "zero carbon" homes. Not quite sure how any home can be "zero carbon". This sounds like a headline grabbing policy that will never actually be applied because of it's virtual impossibility to achieve. A bit like zero road tax on a car that is no longer in production.
The reality behind this sdocuemnt is that it's a revenue generation scheme worth literally billions. It proposes even greater extension of the state's ability to monitor and track individual private action through the road pricing proposal, but the most pernicious aspect of the proposals is that they will punish the poor most significantly. They'll have the consequence of increasing dependency on the state and crushing any hope of social mobility.
There is a debate to won on this issue and it the one that argues that incentives to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour must be based on revenue neutrality. We should not be increasing tax and then saying if people act in particularly ways they will get a reduction, because that doesn't represent a reduction at all. We should be introducing policies which offer rebates from the status-quo tax position, not an increased position. We must reject coercion through financial pain as a means to an end.