Tax rises hard to avoid over next five years, says IFS

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The UK’s main political parties have “ducked” addressing stark choices over public finances in their manifestos and it will be a “considerable surprise” if taxes are not increased over the next five years, a leading think tank has warned.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) accused Labour and the Conservatives of engaging in a “conspiracy of silence” and ignoring “painful choices”.

It said the UK has the highest debt level for more than 60 years, taxes are at a record and spending has swelled – but public services are “visibly struggling”.

While the government is paying huge interest on debts and welfare bills have grown, spending on health is likely to rise because of an ageing population while defence funding will have to increase.

Meanwhile, economic growth is subdued.

Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said: “These raw facts are largely ignored by the two main parties in their manifestos.”

He said that “huge decisions over the size and shape of the state will need to be taken, that those decisions will, in all likelihood, mean either higher taxes or worse public services”.

Whoever wins the election in less than a fortnight faces a “trilemma”, said the IFS.

“Raise taxes by more than they have told us in their manifesto. Or implement cuts to some areas of spending. Or borrow more and be content for debt to rise for longer,” it said.

“What will they choose? The manifestos have left us guessing.”

Mr Johnson also criticised both Labour and the Conservative Party for ruling out increases to income tax, National Insurance and VAT.

“Despite a damaging rush to rule out increases in all sorts of tax rates, it will be a considerable surprise if no other taxes are increased over the next five years,” he said.

In response to the IFS analysis, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The economy has flatlined for 14 years and that is exactly what we are wanting to change and that’s why we have set out plans for growth in our manifesto.”

The BBC has contacted the Conservative Party and the LibDems for comment.

The IFS condemned a lack of transparency over plans to keep thresholds on income tax frozen for a further three years, which will raise £10bn a year.

The Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would keep the measure in place.

The IFS also questioned if parties could raise £5bn by “cracking down” on tax evasion and avoidance.

“Maybe,” said Mr Johnson, but he added that none of the manifestos “make much of the fact that on official estimates most of the shortfall in what HMRC collects is not from big, faceless conglomerates but from the self-employed and small businesses”.



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