New research published today by the Institute of Economic Affairs reveals that high tax rates have resulted in a shadow economy equivalent to a staggering 10% of GDP, worth in excess of £150 billion.
High levels of government spending and front-loaded tax rises have pushed both individuals and businesses into illicit employment. This is a dangerous cycle. As more people have been forced into the shadow economy, HMRC has lost tax revenue. This in turn has pushed up tax rates, stimulating black market employment even more.
The report, The Shadow Economy, finds overwhelming evidence that punitive tax regimes have led to the shadow economy employing 30 million people across the European Union. In Italy, Greece and Spain, illicit activity makes up around 20% of national income.
- Tax and welfare burdens. Employment costs in the official economy have risen as after-tax earnings from work have declined. This has encouraged both workers and businesses to reduce their tax liabilities by abandoning formal employment.
- Regulation. Ever-increasing levels of regulation have dramatically pushed up labour costs. These costs have been pushed on to employees through lower wages, pushing workers into the shadow economy where they can be avoided.
- Recession. The financial crash and subsequent recession saw unemployment rise, reducing jobs in the mainstream economy. Ballooning tax rates exacerbated this as the government attempted to reduce the budget deficit.
- Lack of trust in the government. With higher tax rates encouraging more people out of formal work, people increasingly perceive the tax system as unfair, increasing the likelihood of them also looking for illicit employment.
To reduce shadow economic activity, the research recommends: