Why taxes?

For centuries taxes have been an important fact of national life. Without them it would be impossible to pay for the country's defence services, its health, welfare and social services, its schools and universities, and its transport systems. In addition to these huge areas of expenditure, financial support is given to other vital areas such as industry, sport, heritage and culture.

It is the responsibility of Parliament to consider and approve the taxation, and also to ensure that the money is spent in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

Then and now

In the late 17th century the amount of money collected from various taxes was about £2 million, a small sum by today's standards. But the scale of public spending was far narrower then than it is now. The essentials of state earmarked by Parliament for expenditure consisted only of the army, the navy, a small government bureaucracy, plus the monarch, the royal court and its palaces.

Britain's involvement in wars in the 18th century meant that governments frequently had to raise large loans in preference to putting up taxes to levels which would incur opposition both within and outside Parliament. The National Debt has steadily grown as a result of essential expenditure during both war and peace, and the payment of 'interest' on it has long been an unavoidable item of annual expenditure.

Also within Living Heritage

Parliament's development was greatly linked to the need for the monarch to raise taxes. Learn more about the early development of Parliament

Did you know?

It was only during the 20th century that the number of taxpayers rapidly expanded, especially under the pressure of war.