Who’s fighting for the hard-working Road Sweeper?

Boris has been having fun canvassing recently but was shocked when someone blanked him out earlier this week:

“Hello!” I cried, and extended my hand. Blank. Nothing. He simply walked on by, cutting me as dead as a doornail, and shot into his house. For all the notice he took, I might as well have been a bollard, or some other item of pavement furniture

Taxes have been increasing under this Government to a level where it is almost not worth working:

in a country of ever rising taxes it is the poorest who seem to be clobbered the hardest by Gordon Brown. It is a scandal that the average person pays more than a third – 36 per cent – of his gross income in tax. But if you are in the bottom fifth of the income groups, you pay more than 40 per cent, largely because so much goes in indirect taxes.

Labour’s cleaning up on the council tax

We pretend to be thick-skinned, we candidates, but there is one thing that makes us blush to the roots. We love it when people say they might vote for us. We have learnt to handle it if they say that they are frightfully sorry, but they are going to vote for that nice Mr Blair, or Charlie, or they are going Green this year. We don’t even mind if they tell us to go and jump in a lake. What we hate, what we fear, is being ignored. And that is what happened to your columnist the other day.

I was striding down some wisteria-dotted lane in the company of my fellow canvassers, like a bunch of Reservoir Tories. Striding towards us was a man of about 60. I hailed him. “Hello!” I cried, and extended my hand. Blank. Nothing. He simply walked on by, cutting me as dead as a doornail, and shot into his house. For all the notice he took, I might as well have been a bollard, or some other item of furniture like the best recliners, and I confess that I was mortified.

So bruised was I in my pathetic politician’s soul (and so curious) that on the way back up the street I sought out his house. There he was, pottering by the window-boxes. This time he had no room for escape, and soon we were getting to the bottom of his discontent.

“I’m a working man,” he said, “and as far as I can see no one is interested in the working class any more. I’m not a single mother. I’m not disabled. I’m not on benefits. The Labour lot don’t give a monkey’s about people like me. I have to work seven days a week just to survive. Here, I’ll show you.” And he went inside his house, and returned with his payslip.

He read it out, and at first I was shocked, and then quite angry. He had worked for the council for about 23 years, and now had 18 people who reported to him. He was a road sweeper, and this is what he was paid. For a fortnight’s work, in which he cleaned roads every day, he received gross pay of £542. He had to pay tax of £161, and then National Insurance contributions of £86. And then he had to find about £50 per fortnight for his council tax, because he was in Band D, and therefore paying the thick end of £1,200 per year.

Add it all up, and it strikes me that my new friend the road cleaner is paying well over 50 per cent of his income in tax. He is being taxed, taxed, taxed, and the harder he works, the more heavily he is taxed, because he pays extra tax for overtime. “Is there anything you can do about it?” he asked me. I promised to do my best, and the first and best thing I can do is to publicise this outrage, that in a country of ever rising taxes it is the poorest who seem to be clobbered the hardest by Gordon Brown. It is a scandal that the average person pays more than a third – 36 per cent – of his gross income in tax. But if you are in the bottom fifth of the income groups, you pay more than 40 per cent, largely because so much goes in indirect taxes.

Look at that bill for National Insurance, payable by this road sweeper, and you will see the cynicism of Labour’s pledge not to raise income tax. In what sense is that tax not an income tax? We need to help that man out of his grinding cycle, in which the emanations of the state pay him a pittance to clean our roads, and then take away a large slice of that pittance in tax. That means not endlessly jacking up his council tax, in the way that will certainly happen yet again if Labour gets in.

For the past two weeks, I have been standing on doorsteps listening to people complain about the forthcoming revaluation of the housing stock, and so when I heard that Oliver Letwin was going to scrap the revaluation – and thereby keep the bills down – I almost upended my coffee and shouted for joy. It is the first thing in this election that has been vaguely surprising, and which approaches a Tory masterstroke. Labour would unquestionably have used the revaluation to push up council tax in the South, and divert ever more central government support to the largely Labour-held North of the country.

If the Welsh experience is anything to go by, Gordon Brown has been looking to make an extra £2 billion from the revaluation – by pushing up the bills paid by men like our friend the road sweeper. That would be wrong, and it would be equally wrong to push up his National Insurance – as Gordon Brown has all but admitted would take place in Act One, Scene One of the next Labour government.

Who is he paying for, this man who sweeps our roads? He is helping out of his small income to pay for the myriad people who have been hired by the Labour government to work in the public services – 850,000 since 1997, jobs funded out of tax, to go with the million jobs that have been lost in manufacturing industry. He is paying for jobs that are nothing like as important as the job of cleaning the roads. He is paying for the gender awareness compliance officers, and all the legions of clipboard-toters and quota-monitors that have been produced by New Labour.

No wonder he feels that no one is fighting for him; and to cap it all, it is clear that Labour is going to means-test the pension, so that people who don’t save are left as well off as those who do, and people who do save feel like mugs.

On every front, from road-sweeping to pensions, Labour is breaking the link between effort and reward, and it is time it was restored.

63 thoughts on “Who’s fighting for the hard-working Road Sweeper?”

  1. Nice one Boris. Spare a thought for the salt of the earth as Mick Jagger once said. Sums up exactly why so many of us are so p****d off with Labour.

  2. We all now need to focus on important happening issues.

    Questions are now being asked about the living conditions of many tenants in north london and in west london housed by notting hill housing trust.

    Why do notting hill housing trust use tactics of abuse and illegality against its tenants?


  3. The sincere praise:
    If only more Conservative politicians were like Boris, the only Tory I’d be sorry to see lose his seat at the election.

    The cheap shot:
    I take it from the above that you’d advocate an increase in the tax burden for high earners to offset the reduction in the taxes paid by the road sweeper?
    I know, it’s all about efficiency savings and a reduction in public sector waste.

  4. Jenny, I don’t know if you realise, but your rows of Xs break the page and make it all but unreadable.

    Maybe if you were to intersperse some spaces?

  5. is there something wrong with your layout? Instead of wrapping to fit the screen width, as it usually does, the text now extends way to the right and requires horizontal scrolling.

  6. Nice to see one of you Tories has finally found your way out of Westminster into the real world. And what is the Tory response to Gordon Brown’s mass thievery? A

  7. Most people’s biggest problem with New Labour’s tax policy- much like with their foreign policy, tuition fees policy etc.- is the dishonesty. The Conservatives want to cut tax, the Lib Dems want to put it up. Whatever your political standpoint, both parties should be commended for being honest, whereas Blair and Brown (or the Gruesome Twosome) tend to say ‘We’re not putting up income tax but by the way here’s the biggest NI increase in history for you’. You either want tax increases or you don’t, so please Labour stop hiding from the electorate and tell us what your tax policy actually IS!

  8. Garry:

    It’s about efficiency savings, a reduction in public sector waste, and a reduction in the amount of crap that the government spends our money on. Boris’s road sweeper is getting screwed by Gordon Brown, as are the high earners.

  9. Boris, you should have checked the pay slip more thoroughly. Someone is conning the roadsweeper. He should be paying about

  10. Council tax has been used by the duo as income tax by the back door. LDs are right local income tax is the only fair way. Tony was sorry for two earner households, they are likely to be the most affluent! Pensioners in the SW will be clobbered by council tax re-valuation. Our council tax has been rising at twice or three times the rate of inflation!

    Vote for a party that wilgive us a “hung” parliament probably the best way to get some common sense into Westminster.

  11. If that roadsweeper was idle with 6/8/10/whatever kids he’d be in clover. We hear too much about “hard-working families” and not enough about bone idle (and fecund) ones.

  12. Dave:
    I’m struggling to resist an attempt at a joke about being screwed by Gordon Brown. I’ll contain myself.
    My opinion: I’m sure the government does spend too much money on crap but then so does the private sector. My potted example is the insurance industry. How mant people enjoy being told their premiums are going up when their insurer is spending vast amounts advertising for new customers? I don’t but it happens anyway.
    And efficiency savings can only go so far. After that you just end up with a country full of people off work with stress.

  13. Gerry: some people do think about those who seem to feel that their contribution to society is the addition of innumerable children. As long as some councils cater for families unwilling to work, rewarding them with rent and council tax free accommodation, you will have inequality. There are of course , those, whom through no fault of their own are put in dire straits despite all attempts to avoid them.These are deserving cases. We see in the media , all too often , the stories iof the scrounging minority: hence the following.

    When minorities complain of “unfair treatment “,
    The media put their stories into print.
    Special needs are always quoted, e.g. the size of brood:
    They need a larger house: the council’s skint
    They say they stay at home to watch the kiddies
    Well; kiddies just appeared, I must suppose
    As long as they are paid for doing nothing
    These families won’t stagnate: the number grows
    Mention share of council taxes, for this extra special few:
    The budget for these specials hits the roof
    All one asks is equal treatment, for what is extra one must pay:
    Look in supermarket’s checkout; there’s the proof
    I believe all human beings have the right do their thing,
    But it isn’t fair that I should foot their bills
    Compassion’s not one sided, for each deserves the same,
    If one’s greedy, one must swallow : bitter pills

  14. Well said, Boris. But is has to be said that the Tories’ policies are rubbish. 1% tax reduction is pathetic – well within the margin of error, so what’s the difference? Isn’t that the real question: “what’s the difference?” Everyone in marketing knows you need a “unique selling point”. And the Tories are just imitating Labour. Why?

    Lead, don’t follow. You might be amazed who you would find behind you.

  15. Boris may be right as far as he goes, but tax inequalities are symptomatic of the fact we don’t have a soundly-balanced economy.

    Britain desperately needs institutional reform, modernization and much higher productivity. Since 1997 Labour have failed to reform (the health service, education, transport etc.) while attempting to buy solutions with public funds. Instead of learning from other countries how to modernize public services and encourage business, we have had increasing bureaucracy and centralization which have made our structural problems worse.

    We need an economy with stable and consistent prices, where markets function smoothly, where companies have access to resources and are able to grow, where individuals are motivated and rewarded for their work, where technology is effectively applied and communication skills are universal.

  16. You missed something, Boris. Mr. Road Sweeper was also a homeowner — I’d guess he actually owned his home since he’s not going to be able to afford a mortgage living in your area. He might be grumbling about his deductions but the bite’s nothing to what’s going to happen if he sold his house or died.

    The point Boris made — and I think it was an eyeopener for him — is that we’ve lost the thread. Everyone’s aguing about what’s their fair share of taxes, nobody’s looking at the big picture and asking where all this money’s going. We seem to just accept that the Government has the right to take what it pleases and we don’t have to force any accoutability on it. So what we end up with has more like a protection racket than an expression of our common will and purpose — we give it money for ‘protection’ because if we don’t we’ll get our fingers broken. (In return it may protect us from other gangs but really the money’s used to finance a profligate lifestyle.)

    The trouble is, there’s no easy way out. Its not going to matter who wins the election, the problem’s too ingrained for a quick fix. But someone’s got to make a start, and maybe Boris’s awakening may be it.

  17. You know what would *really* help your streetsweeper and everyone like him? A local income tax, where the taxation level reflects ability to pay.

    Hmm, now who’s proposing that one? Hint: Not the Conservatives or Labour.

    Who brought in the remarkably regressive Council Tax in the first place? Hint: Begins with a ‘C’.

  18. Local income tax is a very bad idea. Unless you think earning is a crime to be punished (in which case why not vote Labour and have done with it?).

    A high earner is already paying progressive income tax, a further percentage of income as NI (aka stealth income tax) and probably higher-than-average VAT on purchases. S/he is consuming less (probably zero) “benefits” because s/he doesn’t use State schools or hospitals, and is not (by definition) unemployed or (unless scrounging) on Social Security.

    Now, because s/he has a house and a country cottage, the LDems want to take another two progressive slices out of her/his income. Where’s the justice in that? Sure we should have a safety net for those genuinely down on their luck, but can the fourth richest nation on earth really need to spend one billion pounds a day on public “services” – much of it being wasted on the manifold inefficiencies that only a Government can generate?

    Looking enviously at other peoples’ money and demanding that State power be used to steal it and give it to you is a sin, guys.

    Why is no-one demanding that the State’s useless services (i.e. most of them) be closed down? That’s the way to reduce taxes, not to manage the gender co-ordinators more efficiently.

    I am coming sadly to Lenin’s view that “the worse the better”. Until the IMF sends the bailiffs men in again, even the Tories are going to be pimps for the State it seems.

  19. Absolutely agree with everything you say – fantastic column. However, one small point……whilst the subject of the article is a road sweeper – you’ve got a picture of a chimney sweep on the site? Any particular reason?
    Crack on though!

  20. Fay – it’s all on the sweep theme ….

    we could change it tho’ if not felt to be appropriate…

  21. Boris really should attempt to understand the tax system before he makes up examples. It discredits his arguments.

  22. GB Jab makes me laugh every time. Brilliant.

    And Sam’s lovely e-mail reminds me of these mailshots I keep getting from the highly evil Fiona Mactaggart, my local Labour candidate (and former MP). How did this vile woman and her red office get my address? No-one else in my family is getting them, and I’m not even going to able to vote! Shows how much they really know about their constituents, eh?

  23. Greetings Boris and Melissa,

    Indeed, there is only one certainty in life Death, Taxes, and Shaggy Political Humour 😉

    Wow, Shaggy GBJab is spreading like a bushfire …

    While Boris told the British side of the Taxing Tale, Charles O. Rossotti Lived to Tell the American Tale:

    The IRS is like a police department that was giving out lots of parking tickets while organized crime was running rampant -Charles Rossotti,

    ‘When I stepped into the job as IRS commissioner in 1997, taxpayers were mad at the Internal Revenue Service. Really mad. People testified for days at televised congressional hearings on how the agency was ruining their lives by trapping them in Kafkaesque procedures. Complaints poured into Congress. A study commission recommended a complete overhaul of the IRS. Even President Clinton weighed in, using an entire Saturday radio speech to say that he was outraged at how the IRS was harassing citizens. The public uproar did create positive change…

    Many Unhappy Returns: One Man’s Quest to Turn Around the Most Unpopular Organization in America

    [Read and Make a Difference]

  24. The Times has prettified the ‘Political Compass’

    The Times has put a new version of the ‘Political Compass’ online. This time it has pretty pictures attached. The Times version is here Some of the questions didn’t give me a good option to answer, so was ‘best approximation’….

  25. Can we have a correction to this post please? There’s no way the roadsweeper would pay that much tax — it’d be about

  26. Matthew: it is probable that the Hero of this blog took the total of Income Tax + NI Contr.+ Council Tax, to arrive at his quoted figure. I think the total of these three equates,( or very closely), to the amount cited in the original entry.

  27. I’m suggesting that 70+40+50= 160. ( near to the figure quoted as I.tax alone)
    If the information garnered from the sweeper were to have been incorrectly copied at the time, and then even more garbled at the time of reading. I totally agree that there is no relation to reality in the way the figures were presented, but a classics degree does not necessarily mean that our hero is an accountant, and might be forgiven a mistake in presentation.

  28. Ah I see. Good point. So if we are being very generous, he’s calculated the total tax take to be

  29. David,

    Are you really saying that you think people should be allowed to just make up numbers to make their case?

    Where would it end? Did you know Labour have cut the average tax burden on a middle-income earner by 79%? Its now the lowest it has been for 72 years.

  30. It’s not just a weblog, it was an article in the country’s largest selling broadsheet newspaper. It’s shocking how little the commenters (and the owner) of this site appear to care about accuracy and the truth.

  31. flat tax!
    flat tax!
    flat tax!
    flat tax!

    i’m still amazed that the Tories haven’t jumped on the East European flat tax bandwagon… or maybe Howard is saving the best till last?

    Come on Boris – get the Tories to say something radical – something that’ll set the election on fire….


    I will put your specific comments to The Boss – Matthew – and come back to you later today

  33. Reply from Boris about the road sweeper:

    “I wrote down what he told me and I don’t think he had any reason to lie about it”

  34. If Boris is re-elected I do hope he’ll look into this constituents circumstances. If his tax has been so wrongly calculated by the inland revenue it is a bigger disgrace than any pennies on NI past or future.

    I hope Boris is a good constituency MP and doesn’t just want people’s attention at the time of the campaign, then when the polls have closed he will ignore the bloke. Blank. Nothing.

  35. Melissa, thank you for your help. I think Johnson’s reply is ridiculous – if he is telling the truth then he should make an effort to contact the roadsweeper to tell him how much extra tax he is paying than he needs to (he’s not of course, Johhnson’s got weekly and fortnigihtly mixed up as I said above).

    Anyway this is not your concern — it’s only a blog after all, and thank you for all your help. I’ll take it up witih the Telegraph.

  36. I think it’s sickening the tactics labour are orchestrating through their placemen, cronies and puppets.

    Thank goodness for people like jenny and martina who are doing a fantastic job of exposing the reality of what we have to pay for and put up with.

    These important issues never seem to appear in the media. Why?

    Is it because the Blair Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is controlled by a very good friend of Tony (Michael Grade)? [As with the last chairman (Gavyn Davies) who was a major labour party donor.]

    Tony B.liar thinks we are complete mugs to pay for his voting scams through ‘social housing’ that do not benefit the people who should benefit, instead there is a policy of providing priority housing for the ‘undeserving’ immediately, whilst postal voting was put in place so it can be and it is being so very easily rigged, with little or no repercussions for committing fraud on a widespread basis.

    Is this the sort of democratic system we really want in this country?

    A system that would discredit a banana republic?

  37. Wouldnt be ever-so-ironic , that the Conservatives (or even the UKIP) may well have to go to the European Court, if the postal vote fiasco doesn’t get resolved at High Court level (in the event of challenges occuring to vote results in key marginals)

    One has visions of Ken Clarke going “see? the EU is good for something , isnt it?”

  38. Justin, in the possibly oh-so -forgettable words,, of that one time popular magician,Paul Daniels, as an answer to Ken Clarke’s possible remark about Europe being good for something : ” Not a lot”.

  39. If you’re not prepared to address REAL issues of REAL people who have REAL votes that are currently being abused by their Registered Social Landlords, I am hardly likely to vote for your political party if you are not prepared to help me.

    Seems like you appear to live in another world?

    Why are you not prepared to speak out against the abuse of tenants by major management of Registered Social Landlords that should act weith concern if very many tenants, translating as very many votes, make wriitten complaints aghainst the abuse of their landlords?


    Asylum seekers seem to get maximinm priority in the Housing Register stakes but indigenous people do not get a look in the Housing Register housing application stakes, even though they have several children.

    Is this not discriminatory?

    Is this right?

    Is this fair?

    Is this reasonable?

    Perhaps you don’t care?

    If this is your attitude, you are most unlikely to win this general election.

    Caring does not appear to be your strong point.

    If you do not addres this MAJOR issue you will NOT and you CANNOT win thisgeneral election!

    GENUINE CARING is the ONLY ISSUE that is ever likely to set this GENERAL ELECTION on FIRE!



  40. I spent the whole of last year corresponding, (direct and via my M.P.) with the Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo, over an aspect of Gordon Brown’s raid on pensions.
    The replies I got were pure circumlocution and double talk, nowadays referred to as spin.
    On 23rd February, after the Conservatives established their Election Office, I posted an enquiry to Mr Howard on the web site and confirmed it by letter, with a copy to my M.P.
    The next day I received the following reply:

    “Michael Howard has asked me to thank you so much for your recent letter and reply on his behalf. He appreciates you bringing the information you wrote of in your e-mail to his attention and has carefully noted your comments. Thank you for writing on this important issue. Best wishes, Ian Philps, Office of the Leader of the Opposition”

    Last Monday, 2nd May, I e-mailed Mr Philps asking for a reply to my question, but have received no response.

    The following is an edited version of my posting and confirming letter:

    Dear Mr. Howard,

    Have the Conservatives any plans to remove an injustice that has, since April, 1999, affected the less well off in any age group [not just pensioners], who happen to have some of their savings invested in shares?

    Imagine four people in different income groups holding the same block of shares.

    A : Gross income, including value of tax credit, is below personal allowance. Should pay no tax.
    B : Gross income above allowances is subject to tax at 10%.
    C : Gross income, after allowances, reaches basic rate (22%).
    D : Is liable to tax at 40% on top slice of income.

    Each investor has a nett dividend of ?160 and receives a tax credit certificate worth ?17.77.

    How does each benefit?

    A : Does not! The tax credit cannot be reclaimed!
    B : Can set the credit against liability for tax at 10%
    C : Sets the credit against liability for tax at 22%, making it worth ?39.10.
    D : Is only liable for tax on the dividend at 32.5%, making the certificate worth ?39.10.

    Yours etc.

    Tomorrow is election day. How shall I vote, dear reader?

  41. Stick to Blue, Peter – I can assure you the Conservatives will do everything possible to stop the raid on pensions and look after the elderly so their savings are protected and there would not be a need to sell homes to pay for long term care.

    Of course, an individual case such as yours would have to be taken up with your own MP.

  42. I have been following your blog and your father’s. Both of you are so right for your constituencies.
    I look forward to the day when you, William Hague and those of that ilk come to power at the head of a real Tory government, not just a product of an underhand palace putsch.

  43. Thank you, Melissa, for your response yesterday.
    I have posted my final comment on http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/ge05.htm

    I could have written Roger Johnson’s contribution
    earlier this morning myself! Good luck to both you other two. You bring colour to an otherwise drab scene.

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