17 April 2007

Poll Tax Rubbish

If the success of the Thatcher years were fairly measured by the protests against her then the fact that the single biggest incident of civil protest in ten years was over a reform to local government finance must surely indicate that in 1990, things were pretty good for the average Brit. As I have always understood it, the objection to the Poll Tax was that it was unfairly regressive in that within each local authority everyone over 18 paid the same amount of tax regardless of income or other wealth. The Council Tax, which replaced it, is charged in relation to the value of the house against which it is levied, with discounts for people living alone and consequently is regarded as being completely fair, or at least not worth rioting over.

In the current climate of climate angst, green taxes are the sine qua non of contemporary politics. Local authorities have risen to the challenge by suggesting they should tax more heavily those households which produce more than a certain amount of waste each year. It is said that such a system would encourage people to use less packaging and recycle and compost more. Whether it is also designed to ensure that we finish what’s on our plate has not been revealed, nor, if it is, how this would gel with the government’s drive against obesity. But I digress.

With the exception of a few good people who grow all their own food and then compost what their own, or their dog’s, digestive system simply cannot accommodate, most of us generate a certain amount of rubbish mainly in the form of plastic, paper and glass packaging as well as the remains of last night’s takeaway. But there’s the rub: which households are producing the most sacks of rubbish? Is it (a) the single person living off takeaways and M&S meals for one; (b) the young couple who are never at home; or is it (c) the family with small children who never go out.

Speaking from personal experience, it is (c) by a rubbish strewn country mile. Yes, my family recycles, we would love to compost (but without a garden we have no intention of opening a branch of Dickens World in our own kitchen) and we have food delivered in environmentally friendly cardboard boxes. But we still generate an absolute ton of rubbish each week for the good bin persons of K&C to collect.

There are five of us living under one roof: three adults (including the au pair) and two babies. We would be heavily penalised by a rubbish tax, I am sure. The first irony and unfairness is that such a tax would effectively be per person - not even per adult, and would be no less regressive than the Poll Tax - even less so if there were no exemptions for students or the unemployed. Where are the rioters when you need them? Secondly, the demand for new houses - driven in no small part by desire of a large number of people to live alone - is a massive source of carbon emissions and pollution so much so that sole occupancy should really be penalised rather than rewarded. Unless, of course, you think the answer to global warming is for us all to stop breeding, in which maybe we should all live alone slowly going sterile whilst eating pizza and watching Vicar of Dibley repeats on UK Gold +1.

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