Jeremy Hunt claimed the burden of his autumn statement tax rises would fall on those with the broadest shoulders, saying on Thursday he would “ask those with more to contribute more”.

Unfortunately, the chancellor’s statement was surprising in its timidity. The UK tax system is sadly riddled with problems. Fixing any one of those could have raised substantial revenue, improved growth and gone some way towards improving fairness, not only between rich and poor but also between people with the same incomes, taken home in different ways.

Instead, in terms of personal taxes, the budget did three small things.

First, it did a whole lot of nothing. By which I mean that the chancellor chose to sit on his hands, and hold a lot of tax thresholds fixed: something often described as a stealth tax. What it means in practice is that even if you can somehow negotiate a pay increase of 11.1%, to match this month’s inflation figure, you will still be less able to afford the things you could before. More of your income will be taxable, and depending what you earn, more of it may be in higher tax brackets.

Most of the “stealth tax” comes from freezing the threshold at which employer’s national insurance kicks in. This freeze means employers will have to pay more for each employee. Proportionally it affects the lowest paid the most, ultimately feeding through to lower wages and employment for that group. This alone raises £5.5bn.

Second, it fiddled with the tax-free allowances for dividends and for capital gains. On top of the personal allowance we all get, recipients of dividends get an additional £2,000 tax-free and recipients of capital gains receive a further £12,000 tax-free each year. These amounts will be halved from April, and halved again a year later, to £500 and £3,000 respectively.

Particularly in the case of capital gains, this threshold was unjustifiably high. While there are administrative costs to filing, having an annual allowance for capital gains that is as high as the income tax personal allowance is pretty difficult to defend.

The final, symbolic, reform is the lowering of the threshold at which the 45p rate of income tax kicks in. This represents a remarkable repudiation of the mini-budget from only eight weeks ago, when Kwasi Kwarteng sought to remove the 45p rate altogether, and it will make the “distributional analysis” charts look good. This reform does raise money from people with incomes in the top 1-2%. But it is essentially a poll tax for individuals in that group: they will pay a flat £1,250 more whether taking home £150k or £1.5m.

The latter two reforms are ones that will largely affect the better off. But even taken together, they don’t actually raise very much, bringing in only £2bn. Most of the tax rises on individuals come from the threshold freezes, and are therefore coming from workers who are much less well-off. And these reforms raise only 12% of what could have been raised by fixing the deeper problems capital gains tax.

Despite repeated mentions of the former chancellor Nigel Lawson during his budget speech, Hunt did not follow his example and equalise the tax rates on income and on capital gains. Currently, someone earning an income of £1m as an employee will pay 47% tax on every additional pound they earn, and their employer has to put in another 13.8% on top. If they can instead take their pay through a company they own and manage, they can take the money out as a capital gain. This allows the first £1m to be taxed at a rate of only 10%, after which the rate is still only 20%.

Capital gains are particularly unequally distributed, with more than half of taxable gains going to only 5,000 people. A budget seriously aimed at focusing tax rises on those with the broadest shoulders would have corrected this anomaly. And now would have been the perfect opportunity. The chancellor could have paired an increase rates with a reintroduction of the inflation allowance for capital gains, reverting to the system we had before 1998, benefiting many people who receive income in this way.

Hunt also avoided addressing one of the most divisive wealth tax breaks. There was no mention of closing the non-dom tax loophole, which allows families with links to other countries, including the prime minister’s wife, to use the UK to shelter their worldwide fortunes.

All in all, this is a budget that ducked the opportunity to make serious reforms to the way wealth is taxed.



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