Public Release: 

Coalition's deficit reduction has made UK tax base more regressive

University of Sheffield

Taxation in the UK has become increasingly regressive since the financial crisis, particularly since the coalition government came to office, according to academics at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).

The latest evidence on tax revenue shows that progressive taxes such as income tax and capital gains tax contribute 54 per cent of total tax receipts, down from 58 per cent five years earlier. In contrast, regressive taxes such as VAT contribute 28 per cent of total tax receipts, an increase from 25 per cent.Tax

Research found that of all the major forms of taxation, VAT has taken on an increasingly prominent role, due to a rise in the rate to 20 per cent, and the greater volume of goods it is levied upon.

VAT revenue has risen from £81 billion, accounting for 16 per cent of tax revenue, to £101 billion, 18 per cent of tax revenue.

The coalition government has explicitly sought to reduce business taxes such as corporation tax. Accordingly, business taxation now contributes 12 per cent of total tax receipts, down from 14 per cent five years earlier.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts even further falls in business tax revenue, with receipts declining to 11 per cent of the total by 2017/18. A lower tax burden for business is due to become an enduring feature of the UK tax base.

In contrast, the OBR forecasts a partial rebalancing towards progressive taxes, away from regressive taxes, over this period. Yet this prediction is based on the expectation of strong average earnings growth - which forecasters have been consistently wrong about since the recession.

The report by the University of Sheffield's SPERI Research Fellow Dr Craig Berry and Department of Politics researcher Dan Bailey highlights the character of the coalition government's approach to deficit reduction in terms of tax, with forms of tax that fall most heavily on the least affluent groups targeted as sources of additional revenue.

Dr Berry said: "The UK tax base has, to some extent, been transformed by the economic downturn and its aftermath, and reforms undertaken by the coalition government. It is clear that the UK tax base has become more regressive.

"The trend away from progressive taxes may reverse in the next few years - if the economic recovery proves sustainable, which is far from certain. Yet the tax base will not revert in full to its pre-crisis balance, and the prediction that it will is based on earnings growth forecasts which are highly debateable.

"We know that the coalition government has sought to achieve deficit reduction primarily through spending cuts, which hit the poorest hardest. But it is clear the portion of deficit reduction enabled by tax increases also has an increasingly regressive character."

The full report can be viewed at

Today's publication is the fifth in a new series of SPERI British Political Economy Briefs.

Through this series SPERI hopes to draw upon the expertise of its academic researchers to influence the debate in the UK on sustainable economic recovery.

Notes for editors:

The Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) is an academic institute based at the University of Sheffield. The institute aims to bring together leading international researchers, policy-makers, journalists and opinion formers to develop new ways of thinking about the economic and political challenges posed for the whole world by the current combination of financial crisis, shifting economic power and environmental threat.


The analysis employs the following definitions:

Progressive taxes: Taxes which are either levied variably according to income, or targeted on significant wealth transfers, namely income tax, National Insurance (which is paid by employers as well as employees), council tax, capital gains tax, stamp duty and inheritance tax.

Regressive taxes: Taxes levied on individuals at the same rate, irrespective of income or wealth, namely VAT and the various additional or alternative duties levied on specific consumer goods.

Business taxes: Taxes targeted at private enterprises rather than individuals, generally but not exclusively targeting company profits, namely corporation tax, business rates, and petroleum revenue tax.

Using published OBR, HM Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs data, the analysis shows that:

In 2007/08, progressive taxes made up 57.9 per cent of UK tax revenue, 53.8 per cent in 2012/13, and are forecast to make up 56.6 per cent in 2017/18.

In 2007/08, regressive taxes made up 25.4 per cent of UK tax revenue, 28.4 per cent in 2012/14, and are forecast to make up 26.7 per cent in 2017/18.

In 2007/08, business taxes made up 13.6 per cent of UK tax revenue, 12.3 per cent in 2012/13, and are forecast to make up 10.8 per cent in 2017/18.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 25,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline and Siemens, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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