The thing is that when you are self-employed, you really feel your tax payments leaving your account. In my distant, hazy memory of having a proper job, I barely noticed the money deducted from my payslip. Though that may be because it was such a derisory sum, as I earned £3.30 an hour, and quietly resented every bag of popcorn and ice-cream I sold. No-one should ever have to face up to the fact that society values a tub of Haagen-Dazs more than it values an hour of their life. Even if it is Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which is delicious.
But now, when I write a cheque in January and July, I feel like I am giving away my own money, though the taxman has really just been lending it to me for a few months. So I’m glad to know that from 2014, he will be sending me a proper, itemised receipt of what he is spending my hard-earned cash on.
It turns out that the biggest chunk of my money – about a third - goes on the welfare state, which I imagine would annoy me if I hated disabled people and those less well off than me, as I believe is the accepted system nowadays. But since I earned that money watching films, reading books and writing about them, I think we can safely say they deserve it more than I do.
The trouble is that once I get past the things that are unarguable public goods (like health, education, and public order), I may start feeling a bit more chiselly. Does the government really need to spend more on its own admin than it spends on Housing? No wonder there isn’t enough of the latter. And no wonder the former is so labyrinthine.
And of the £329 of tax that a £25k earner spends on Defence, how much of that is actually going on Defence, and how much goes on civil servants’ credit cards? The average purchase on those, it was revealed yesterday, is £184. Yet in two-thirds of the audited transactions, no-one could find a receipt or invoice to support the claim. Since I have to keep all my receipts for seven years, I’m not quite sure why civil servants are allowed to file theirs in the bin.
This is, of course, the trouble with transparency: behaviour only improves after it has been scrutinised and found wanting, and sometimes not even then. But to reach that point, we first have to see the unedifying spectacle of too many of our public servants behaving like dodgy builders, offering a discount if you pay cash with no questions asked. So while tax statements will be informative reading, they will make us all a little more cynical too.