Briefing: post-war tax burdens by prime minister

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  • Higher tax burden under Boris Johnson (34.4 per cent) than any prime minister since Attlee.
  • Further rise to 34.8 per cent by 2023-24 if Johnson re-elected. Term-average of 34.7 per cent.
  • Corbyn to impose highest tax burden ever, at 37.9 per cent by 2023-24, a term average of 37.3 per cent.

Since the TaxPayers’ Alliance published Briefing: highest tax burden this year since 1969-70 in July 2018, the fact that the tax burden is now at a 50-year high has become widely known and has informed public debate. This briefing shows the tax burden under each prime minister since the second world war1 and then estimates what the tax burden will be under the proposals in the party manifestos of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.2

Boris Johnson has presided over the highest tax burden of any Conservative PM on record, at 34.4 per cent of GDP. Conservative manifesto commitments mean this will rise to an average of 34.7 per cent of GDP by 2023-24. The Labour manifesto suggests that Jeremy Corbyn will impose the highest tax burden ever recorded (37.3 per cent of GDP), even higher than Clement Attlee after the second world war (35.8 per cent of GDP).

Recent TPA polling3 asked which one recent leader respondents had ‘most respect’ for. Thatcher was selected by 27 per cent compared to 5 per cent for May and Cameron and 4 per cent for Major.


OBR (annual) tax burden data was allocated to each day. The sum of these daily numbers was divided by the number of days served. OBR data available at www.obr.uk/data.

Both parties’ manifesto tax revenue estimates were used. No changes in GDP forecasts were assumed. 

Available at www.publicfirst.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/TPA_Research_July.pdf.

OBR tax burden data is from 1948 only. The Attlee calculation begins 1 January 1948, not his appointment on 26 July 1945.