Labour slams 'misleading' Treasury comms on tax changes

Shadow minister urges perm sec to remove social-media posts he says are politically problematic for civil servants

A Labour minister has written to Treasury permanent secretary James Bowler urging him to withdraw a series of “misleading” social media posts about tax changes.

Shadow financial secretary to the Treasury James Murray said a series of posts on X present “a partial picture of the effect of government tax policy” and may not be consistent with guidelines on civil service communications.

In a post on X yesterday, the HM Treasury’s official account claimed that the UK tax rate for people on average salaries is now “lower than all G7 nations”, thanks to a 2p cut to the main rate of National Insurance that came into effect over the weekend.

However, the post has been labelled "misleading", based on input from users of the social-media platform.

A context note clarifies that the figures are for unmarried single earners with no children. “It is therefore not the average personal tax rate, as a majority of people in these countries are married,” the note adds.

According to OECD data, for married households with children, effective tax rates are lower in the US, Japan, and France, it says.

A second post by the Treasury that claims an "average earner in the UK... earns an extra £450 take home pay as a result of today's tax cuts" has also been labelled "misleading" by X users.

The context note links to a BBC article about a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that shows the tax burden is at a postwar high when the freeze in tax thresholds and other changes are taken into account. 

After pointing to these discrepancies, Murray wrote: “As I am sure you will agree, official communications from HM Treasury must follow the important principles of propriety that all civil service communications must adhere to.

“Guidance on this is clear that those communications should be ‘objective and explanatory, not biased and polemical, and should not be liable to being ‘misrepresented as party political’. The guidance also states that civil service press offices should not ‘oversell policies’ or ‘attempt to mislead the public’.

“I do not believe those communications follow those principles,” he said.

Murray also questioned whether the posts meet the requirements of the Communications Act, which mandates that government information campaigns “should not be partial”.

“It is important that the public trusts HM Treasury communications and can be confident that they are accurate and not misleading or partial. I would therefore be grateful if you could confirm you will withdraw these communications, or if you will be replacing them to reflecting [sic] the points above,” he said.

Murray also urged Bowler for reassurance that “protocols are in place to make sure that other inaccurate, misleading social-media communications are not published in future on the HM Treasury accounts, especially during this election year”.

A Treasury spokesperson said the government had been “transparent” about how the NI cut will benefit different earners.

“The average employee – earning £35,400 – will save £450 a year,” they said.

“These changes mean that for an individual on the average salary, personal taxes would be lower in the UK than every other G7 country, based on the latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) data.

“Taken together with all the changes to personal tax thresholds since 2010, an average worker in 2024-25 will pay over £1,000 less in personal taxes than they otherwise would have done if the thresholds had just been increased each year by inflation.”

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