Taxpayers’ Money: Whose Money Is It Anyway?


Assorted international currency notes.

Money's too tight to mention !!!

If you are lucky enough to live in a tax-free country, you may have been spared the recent barrage of news headlines featuring the word “taxpayer” or the phrase “taxpayers’ money.”

These headlines have become commonplace for us less fortunate mortals who live in the UK.

Whether it is the £131bn taxpayer support of UK stressed banks; the estimated £7bn taxpayer support to bail out Irish banks; the expected £20m taxpayer bill for the Pope’s recent UK visit; or the potential taxpayers’ bill of £22bn if British Telecom goes bust, these headlines have very much become run-of-the-mill for us Brits.

So who does taxpayers’ money really belong to?

To answer this question, let us reflect on the contemporary phrase “taxpayers’ money.”  I see this phrase as a misnomer, for the simply reason that once tax revenue is collected from citizens and residents, it belongs to the government.

Tax revenue is generally used by the government to provide public amenities for its citizens and residents, as well as, fund other projects it deems necessary. So regardless of the hackneyed misleading phrase, tax revenue really is  controlled by the government.

Okay, let us assume that I owe someone £20 for goods I purchased. Once I settle my debt of £20, I cannot say that the money is still mine. Furthermore, it would be naive of me to contend that I have any realistic control over how my creditor chooses to spend this money.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to establish the timeline and circumstances of the first public use of the phrase “taxpayers’ money.”  I do, however, suspect that it may have been politically motivated by opposition politicians to incite the wrath of taxpayers over a public spending exposé.

Nonetheless, it is now commonplace for we taxpayers to rant about how our political leaders spend our tax revenue contributions. Especially when our political leaders spend this money bailing out struggling banks and economies, as well as, help rebuild countries that we should not have helped destroy in the first place.

For example, the cost to UK taxpayers, for combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (including rebuilding costs) is estimated to be in excess of £20bn. According to former Mayor of London, Kevin Livingstone, this amount will adequately fund free university tuition for 10 years in the UK.

As a UK taxpayer, I am disheartened that, in spite of my tax contributions, my welfare and that of other taxpayers no longer dominates government spending priorities. Of course it is clear as night and day that we have been short-changed.  To add insult to injury, we have now been left out in the cold in our birthday suits. Only when we accept that we have no real bargaining power in this relationship would we have begun our preparation for the rough and bumpy terrain that sadly lies ahead in 2011.

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4 responses to “Taxpayers’ Money: Whose Money Is It Anyway?

  1. This is very refreshing indeed, and thought-provoking

    I usually get angry when people use the phrase “my tax money” to criticise government funding of whatever project they disapprove of. However, I have recently reviewed the problem with countries where there are corrupt leaders and nonchalant masses. The surprising discovery is that masses are dispense an “I don’t care” attitude basically because they do not play any tax, otherwise, they will keep vigil if anyone is stealing their hard-earned tax contribution.

    Coming back home to Britain, it is sad the way governance is tuning – insensitivity to public feelings. Tony Blair did it and the Con-Dem Coalition are doing the same. Nick Cleg so disappointed me with his comment on the new university tuition arrangement, saying it is the fairest he has ever seen. Talk about lies and to our face!!!

    • Greetings Shams, thanks for your contribution.

      I totally agree that comments like: ‘ I don’t want my tax money used for XYZ,’ have definately become commonplace. In fact, it was one such rant by a famous radio presenter, on air, that actually inspired this article.

  2. Dear Skynoor I was intrigued by the lack of origins for the term “Taxpayers’ money” here are two (not quite to the point)
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxpayers’_money
    Some interesting points are brought out here in section 6 Views on tax, about the ethics of levying tax: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax

    Let me turn your question around so that we may look at it from another angle:
    “Assume that I give my servant £20 to purchase some goods for me. Once I entrust my crisp new £20 to him or her, can I really not say that the money is still mine? Furthermore, could I not realistically contend that I should have control over how my servant chooses to spend this money?”
    The question here then is this “Is the Government Master or Public Servant?” once we have established the answer to that question, then we can answer the question “Whose Money is it Anyway”. Open for debate.

    • Hallo S. Karen, many thanks for your valuable contribution, which did get me thinking.

      I did check Wikipedia during the research phase of this article and I must say Wikipedia has done a good job of explaining the origins of taxes, including tax incidence and types of taxes. This information is readily available on the Internet. What isn’t available is background information on the emergence and acceptability of the contemporary phrase “taxpayers’ money.”

      I say ‘contemporary’ because during my time as a student of Accounting and Finance ( late ’80s – late ’90s) what is now known as “taxpayers’ money” was simply called “public funds”, “state funds” or “tax revenue”. And despite my research, I have not been able to ascertain the timeline for when “taxpayers’ money” became another widely used synonym for tax revenue. Thank you for prompting me to look again at Wikipedia, I previously missed the invitation to start an article on “taxpayers’ money,” which I may now consider 🙂

      To be candid, I like your analogy regarding the servant and £20. This one has the potential to open up a whole new can of worms, but let’s go with it!!!!!!

      The way I see it, if you give your servant £20 to purchase something for you, the money is yours until your servant spends it on your behalf. Yes, you also have control over how your servant spends this money for the simply reason that he or she is meant to be running an errand for you. But then again, wouldn’t the same line of thinking apply whether it was a colleague or a business partner running the errand for you?

      “Is the Government Master or Public Servant?” I will say the government is master and public servant. Why? Because I could face criminal charges, and possibly wind up in jail, if I refuse to abide by the laws of the land regarding paying my taxes and observing other statutory requirements. Additionally, the free dictionary defines “Public Servant” as “A person who holds a government position by election or appointment.” It is important to note that this definition does not, however, infer a relationship where one is subordinate to the other.

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