27th Annual Tax Research Network Conference fringe event - Taxation and Social Policy

Alan Walters Building (Main Lecture Theatre)
Social Sciences
Tuesday 4th September 2018 (15:45-17:15)
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If you would like to attend, please contact Helen Harris: h.m.a.harris@bham.ac.uk

A Tax Research Network, Social Policy Association (SPA) and University of Birmingham Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM) Symposium

In keeping with the Conference’s overall aim of considering taxation from a range of perspectives, this special fringe event will provide a forum for discussing the place of social policy in the study of taxation. The speakers will be drawing on papers presented in a similar session at the Social Policy Association annual conference in July. This was the second event of an international Taxation and Social Policy Group that was launched in June. The Group’s purpose is to add to the efforts of others seeking to foster a greater engagement with matters of taxation amongst social policy academics and practitioners. It aims to highlight social policy concerns in both tax research and tax education and bring together those working in the fields of social policy and taxation to deepen understanding of the interaction of tax and social policies. With concern over funding health and other services and fiscal inequities rising up the political agenda, this symposium provides an opportunity to consider the ways taxation shapes social policy and the role of the ‘hidden tax welfare state’.


Andy Lymer (Chair) - Introduction
Adrian Sinfield - Building Social Policies in Fiscal Welfare
Micheál Collins - Private Pensions and the Gender Distribution of Tax Supports
Sally Ruane - Public Perceptions of Tax Avoidance: Tax Avoidance and Everyday Theories of Tax
Discussion/Next Steps


Dr Micheál Collins is Assistant Professor of Social Policy at University College Dublin. His research interests and publications are in the areas of income distribution, taxation, fiscal welfare, pensions, economic evaluation and public policy. He was a member of the Irish Commission on Taxation (2008-2009) and the Irish Government’s Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare (2011-2014). He is currently an external member of an interdepartmental group examining the reform of Ireland’s income tax and social insurance system.

Sally Ruane is a Reader in Social Policy at De Montfort University, Leicester. She is the Director of the Health and Policy Research Unit, DMU, with an interest in health system reform and health service reconfiguration. She has developed a research interest in taxation over the past decade, co-authoring Paying for the Welfare State in the 21st Century (Policy Press, 2017) with David Byrne.

Adrian Sinfield, Professor Emeritus of Social Policy, University of Edinburgh, has worked on social security, poverty, unemployment and the social division of welfare. Chair and president of the Social Policy Association, he received its first lifetime achievement award. Co-founder of the Unemployment Unit and chair for its first ten years, he was vice-chair of the Child Poverty Action Group for eight years.

Paper abstracts

Micheál Collins (University College Dublin) Private Pensions and the Gender Distribution of Tax Supports
Fiscal supports to encourage and facilitate individuals participating in private pensions are a recurring, and expanding, element of many countries approaches to pensions policy. These fiscal welfare tools are expensive, in revenue forgone terms, and have been continually found to have regressive distributive outcomes. This paper considers the effectiveness of the current suite of private pension taxation supports in Ireland from a gender perspective. In doing so it compares the performance of the current system in encouraging pension contributions by both males and females and examines if a ‘gender pensions contribution gap’ exists. It also considers the distribution of current private pension supports by gender, bringing a new equity lens to an area of substantial recurring fiscal welfare.

Sally Ruane (De Montfort University, Leicester) Public Perceptions of Tax Avoidance: Tax Avoidance and Everyday Theories of Tax
This paper examines the way in which people talk about tax avoidance, a term which commonly refers to lawful practices which result in a reduction in tax liabilities. The research underpinning this paper investigated how people talk about tax. Eight focus groups were conducted between March 2016 and July 2017 and four categories of participant were approached - people in work, retired people, church-going Christians and students - via networks which privileged one of these identities such as pensioner groups, church newsletters, trade union networks and university course structures. Groups were organised around these identities (two of each). Forty-one participants were recruited, with a modal average of 5 participants per focus group. Tax avoidance was discussed by participants in all focus groups without prompting from the facilitator. Most participants were aware of a difference between lawful and illegal avoidance (evasion). Large corporations were singled out for criticism in all focus groups with the names of some companies mentioned repeatedly (notably Google, Starbucks, Amazon) as tax avoiders. Most participants distinguished different types of avoidance within the law and participants engaged in sophisticated discussions in which they attempted to articulate why some avoidance practices within the law were acceptable while other avoidance practices within the law were unacceptable. In doing so, participants drew on a range of lay theories in relation to the nature of the economy, the relationship of government to the tax system and the social obligations of individuals. This paper examines these lay theories and considers some of their political implications.

Adrian Sinfield (University of Edinburgh) Building Social Policies in Fiscal Welfare
The pattern of resource distribution in any society depends not only on how it is spent but how it is raised. Yet social policy has tended to neglect the extent and form of the second and how this affects the common wealth and the welfare of individual communities, families and people. The use of tax and other reliefs is little analysed, and policy strategies even less debated. This paper aims to develop this second element, discussing what might be the objectives of fiscal policy directed to supporting public welfare and promoting social security across society. What evidence is needed to provide a basis for debate to develop robust and flexible policies; what are ‘the strategic points of intervention’; and why has there been a prolonged failure to engage more openly with issues raised at least two generations ago?