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Comparing taxes and benefits in 1979, 1997 and 2008


Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Type: Report
Region: Republic of Ireland
Northern Ireland

Huge changes to social policy have occurred since 1979. This study uses three 'model lifetimes' for low, average and high earners to look at the impact of taxes and benefits over time. It also examines child and pensioner poverty under the systems of 1979, 1997 and 2008. Key points Benefits for children were eroded between 1979 and 1997 but have become more generous since 1999. However, this increased generosity is targeted at low-income families, leads to worse incentives to work more hours and does not hold its value over time. This presents problems in dealing with child poverty in the medium term.Pension policy has changed over time, with greater reliance on private pensions and erosion of both state and employer-based schemes. Means-tested safety nets have improved since 1997, and reduced pensioner poverty.Average-earning families saw very little difference in taxes and benefits over time between 1979, 1997 and 2008. Gains from lower direct taxes were taken back by higher indirect taxes and less generous benefits, particularly state pensions.Higher-earning families were big gainers in 1997 and 2008 compared with 1979 and had the best overall outcomes in 1997 because of lower taxation.Low-income families fared worst overall. Particular losses between 1979 and 1997 have been reversed, but when indirect taxation is taken into account these recent gains are minimal. Where low-earning families had periods of unemployment or incapacity, they lost more over their lifetime, with 2008 worse for this than 1997 and both these years much worse than 1979. 



Rights: Public
Suggested citation:

Joseph Rowntree Foundation. (2009) Comparing taxes and benefits in 1979, 1997 and 2008 [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 22nd October 2019].


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