What must they be making, then, of suggestions that everyone should have their tax returns made public?
Publishing everyone’s tax details would make the new measures superfluous. In fact, if PAYE details were made publicly available, it would be technically possible to work out the relative incomes of employees in all companies — even ones too small to be affected under the government’s proposed regulations.
What would that mean in practice? One potential answer lies in the example of Norway, where tax returns have been public since the 19th century. In fact, until fairly recently, it was possible to read Norwegians’ tax details online — leading, perhaps predictably, to a rather voyeuristic interest in tax affairs, with tabloid newspapers often using the records to find easy stories.
Before Norway switched from an open system to one requiring registration, there were even concerns that burglars might use the nation’s records to find potential victims.
I was thinking about this yesterday. Back in the late 1980s, I spent a year in Oslo. I used to hang out in a big bookstore in the center of town (Tanum, on Karl Johans Gate), because they had an excellent selection of books in English. I recall, at some point during the year, seeing a big table with huge piles of a drab looking book that everyone was picking up and buying. I asked someone what it was, and found that it was a register of everyone’s tax information: how much money they made, and how much they paid in income tax. I found it fascinating that this country was so open about people’s income.
So with what’s going on in the UK – politicians are publishing information about their income and the taxes they pay, as a result of the Panama Papers leak – I wondered if other countries would ever do something like this.
This article asks the following question:
If the UK followed Norway and made all tax returns public, what would it mean for pay inequality?
It’s interesting to wonder if this would help pay equality; or equality in general…