One of the major criticisms levelled by many towards the BBC is its ability (or lack thereof) to maintain impartiality. This is usually most evident by the political affiliations of the guests it has on - often failing to declare they are activists for major political parties. However, there are other, more subtle ways in which the BBC displays bias; one of which is the language used in its news output.
To help our friends at the BBC cover fiscal issues in a fairer way for the taxpayer, we’ve compiled some suggestions:
“Asking people to pay more tax”
This is a classic misrepresentation of what actually happens when a tax rise is implemented. If, for example, income tax were hiked, it simply gets deducted from your pay (if you’re on PAYE) or you’ll be on the receiving end of a bigger tax bill if you do self-assessment. If you don’t comply, HMRC will soon be on your tail and you could well end up in front of a judge. There’s no asking involved, not even a please and thank you. Talk about making you an offer you can’t refuse!
Ever since the coalition government came to power in 2010, the term “austerity” has been thrown out left, right and centre on BBC airwaves. It stems from the notion that public spending was being slashed by such huge sums that the NHS would collapse and tens of millions would fall into poverty. In reality, David Cameron and George Osborne reduced the rate at which government spending was increasing. The last time true austerity was felt on these isles was after World War II, when the nation had to endure rationing, price controls and makeshift housing. Describing spending levels which aren't as high as projected as austerity is not wholly accurate.
This is often deployed when a tax cut or change benefits those on higher incomes. For example, a cut in national insurance or stamp duty will always have a greater up-front benefit to wealthier people as they will likely be paying more tax in the first place. While the less well-off may not see as dramatic a saving in raw figures, they still feel the benefits too. Cutting taxes and therefore giving back more to people who pay more in the first place does not make it ‘unfair’ on anyone else.
As we all know, announcements of meaningful tax cuts are regrettably few and far between. It’s all the more galling, then, when presenters refer to the cancellation of tax rises as “cuts”. When the new government rightly announced that ill-conceived hikes to national insurance and corporation tax would be scrapped, the news coverage on the BBC would have you believe that these rates had existed since the Napoleonic Wars. But as the old adage goes, “you can't lose what you never had”. For an organisation that is in many ways stuck in the past, the Beeb often seems to get ahead of itself when discussing scrapped tax hikes.
“Spending vs tax cuts”
There is often a clear preference that the BBC shows when talking about tax cuts and spending rises. Notably, journalists and presenters are much more eager to talk up why more money must be spent by the government taxpayer. Many problems can seemingly only ever be solved by spending taxpayers’ cash. They often fail to fully explain the benefits that a tax cut would bring - instead concentrating on how much money the taxman might stand to lose. For example, spending will often be described as investment, while the investment arising from a tax cut is much less featured. This is a phenomenon that our dynamic tax model seeks to address.
If you’ve tuned into BBC news coverage in the last couple of weeks, you will likely have heard discussion of the shortcomings of “trickle-down economics”. For the uninitiated, the claim is that people like us believe, forlornly, that cutting taxes for the rich will lead to wealth trickling down to the less affluent. Let’s put aside for a moment the TPA’s longstanding and unapologetic campaign for a cut in the basic rate of income tax. In reality, sensible tax cuts across the board make space for economic growth from which we all benefit. Not only does this lead to lower taxes as public finances flourish, but it actually leads to higher net tax takes from the wealthy. Fundamentally, this means that prosperity comes for everyone and isn’t something which has to descend from those better off (as some would have you believe). All of this critical insight is lost when the discussion is based on a false premise.
The Beeb should take care not to only use the language of tax-and-spend. Representing terms and facts more accurately would be a tremendous boon to the British taxpayer.