What does my tax pay for?

Ever wondered where that chunk of your hard-earned money disappears to every payday? Well, it’s time to unravel the mystery of UK tax and discover where your contributions are being put to good use. Let’s break it down.

The Spring Budget

The UK government announce their budget each year, commonly called the ‘Spring Budget’ since it’s typically announced in March just before the start of a new financial year (which runs from April 6th to April 5th in the UK).

Along with outlining the government’s financial policies, economic forecasts and proposed tax changes, they will publish their spending budget for the upcoming financial year.

Here’s a summary of public spending from the Spring Budget 2024, published on the gov.uk website:

Pie chart of the UK Spring Budget 2024

What if I live in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales?

While some things are budgeted and paid for by the UK government across all four nations, such as defence and pensions, the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh governments each manage their own budget for most of their country’s public spending.

That means the chart above won’t represent your country’s budget, but still provides a rough idea of the types of things that tax is spent on, since each government budgets for similar things.

So, what does my tax pay for?

Social Protection

A significant portion of your taxes goes towards social protection, providing a safety net for those facing challenging circumstances. This covers areas like housing benefit, state pensions and other programmes that support people who are unemployed, disabled, or in need of additional support. By contributing to these programmes, you’re helping to build a society that cares for its members and provides a helping hand when it’s needed most.

Public Services

Several of the sections in the pie chart can be categorised together as public services. This includes:

  • Health – funding for the National Health Service (NHS), ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare without worrying about hefty bills.
  • Education – supporting schools and universities, making quality education accessible to all.
  • Public order and safety – funding the police, ambulance and fire services.
  • Personal social services – i.e. social care services for children or adults in need or at risk. This includes services such as care homes, the child protection services, support for people with learning or physical disabilities, etc.

Together, public services take the biggest chunk of your tax, but they form the backbone of our society and play a huge part in the quality of life for people in the UK.

Other areas

Let’s take a brief overview of the remaining sections on the pie chart:

  • Debt interest – paying off the UK’s debt
  • Defence – the UK’s armed forces (including peacekeeping forces), military facilities and equipment
  • Transport – maintenance and improvement of roads, bridges and public transport.
  • Industry, agriculture and employment – supporting the UK’s economic growth through industry, agriculture and improving unemployment rates.
  • Housing and environment – building more homes and measures to improve how the UK looks after the environment.
  • Other (including EU transactions) – smaller spending areas are grouped together. ‘EU transactions’ refers to the UK’s contributions to financial commitments made by the EU before Brexit.

Three top tips

Check the tax code on your payslip

A tax code is used by an employer or pension provider to calculate the amount of tax to deduct from a person’s pay or pension. If they have the wrong tax code a person could end up paying too much or too little tax.

A tax code is usually made up of several numbers and a letter, for example: 1157L or K497, and the most common one for the 2023/2024 tax year is 1257L.

This code usually tells you your “Personal Allowance”, i.e. the amount of earnings in year that you don’t have to pay any tax on. If your tax code ends with an ‘L’, simply replace the ‘L’ with a zero to find out your Personal Allowance, e.g. having 1257L as a tax code means you have a Personal Allowance of £12,570. 

If you live in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland, the tax code system is the same, but if you live in Scotland your tax code will be prefixed with an ‘S’, e.g. S1257L, and if you live in Wales, it’ll be prefixed with an ‘C’, e.g. C1257L. 

There are also emergency tax codes – these are usually used when your employer isn’t sure how much tax you should be paying. (This could be due to having a second job, leaving one job and starting another without your P45 or another issue with your tax account). 

If HMRC changes your tax code, you should receive a PAYE Coding Notice letter from their Tax Office. Keep all such letters from HMRC safe for reference and be sure not to lose or throw them away. 

So, take the time to make sure your tax code is correct by either using the gov.uk tax code checker or Money Saving Expert’s tax code calculator.

Plan for the future

While retirement might seem distant, it’s never too early to start planning. Explore tax-advantaged savings options like Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) or workplace pension schemes. By starting early, you can take advantage of compound interest and set yourself up for a more comfortable future.

Stay informed

Tax laws are dynamic and subject to change. Stay informed about these changes by following reputable financial news sources. Being proactive and staying on top of the latest developments will help you make informed decisions about your finances and taxes. Importantly, if you have any questions about your tax situation, you should talk to HMRC.

So, there you have it – a detailed look at where your UK tax money goes! Your contributions play a vital role in building and maintaining the society we all enjoy, such as free healthcare through the NHS and a state pension.

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