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Why Was a Wealth Tax for the UK Abandoned? Lessons for the Policy Process and Tackling Wealth Inequality


The distribution of wealth is widening in many countries and with it the growing importance of inherited wealth. In 1974, a Labour Government came to power in the United Kingdom committed to introducing an annual wealth tax. It left office without doing so. Using the official archives of the time and those of a key advisor this paper traces both the origins of the policy and its fate at the hands of the civil service. It explores two related questions. What does this experience tell us about the role of the civil service in the policy process in the UK and what lessons might be learned by those wishing to tackle the issue of widening wealth disparities today?

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N. Ellison (1994), Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics, London: Routledge.

C. Feinstein (1996), ‘The equalising of wealth in Britain since the Second World War’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 12: 1, 96105.

P. Hall (1993), ‘Policy paradigms, social learning and the state: the case of economic policy making in Britain’, Comparative Politics, 25: 3, 319–42.

R. Lowe (1997), ‘Milestone or millstone: the 1959–61 Plowden Committee and its impact on British welfare policy’, Historical Journal, 40: 2, 463–91.

T. Piketty (2011), ‘On the long-run evolution of inheritance: France 1820–2050’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126: 3 (forthcoming).

J. Roine and D. Waldestrom (2009), ‘Wealth concentration over the path of development: Sweden 1873–2006’, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 111: 1, 151–87.

C. Thain and M. Wright (1995), The Treasury and Whitehall: The Planning and Control of Public Expenditure 1976–1993, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
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