The tax reforms proposed by the IFS are sensible, attractive, and highly unlikely. Anyone who fills in his own tax return knows that some of the questions are almost impenetrable, and filling it in honestly and completely is almost impossible, even with the best will in the world. The last Labour government managed to double the size of Tolleys tax guide, the UK’s tax bible, and for all the rhetoric, the coalition has made things worse. Its proposed withdrawal of child benefit from those earning more than £45,000 a year promises more misery.

They do things differently elsewhere. In Greece, a new property tax, levied through domestic electricity bills, will at least produce some instant revenue and will be hard to evade. Perhaps the next move will be a levy on every ship in Pireus, aimed at those poor shipowners among the mere 25,000 Greek citizens who declare taxable income of more than E100,000 a year.

In France – not yet in crisis – the latest wheeze is a “fat tax” on fizzy drinks in the form of a rise in VAT. This is not going to help reverse the growth in the weight of the average Frenchman, neither will it raise much revenue, but it does open up possibilities for imaginative administrations. The precedent of taxes on tobacco, that it’s bad for you and that your fellow-citizens have to pick up the healthcare bill, can be more, er, widely applied as the West’s obesity epidemic worsens. How about a sugar surcharge (“Don’t tax kiddies’ sweets” will be the slogan of the industry) or a salt tax (for which there is a precedent)?

The IFS has no truck with such details, and quite right too. Its central proposals, to merge income tax and National Insurance, and apply the standard rate of VAT on almost everything, including food, would both be political suicide notes. The first would make people realise that income tax is 32%, not 20%, while the second would produce hand-wringing stories of starving kiddies.

The UK’s tax system, like those of most other western countries, is complex, arbitrary and unfair, the product of headline-grabbing initiatives, unintended consequences and piecemeal adjustments. Reforming it would release millions of man-hours for people to do something more productive. Stop dreaming. It ain’t going to happen.

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