poll tax

poll tax
   A poll tax is a tax levied upon individuals at a flat rate per capita within a given geographical area. The community charge, which was to become known as the poll tax, was introduced initially in Scotland, with the first bills due for payment in April 1989. In England and Wales, registration began in 1989 and payments became due one year later.
   The poll tax was introduced with a number of objectives in mind. The primary justification for a reform of local government taxation was the issue of accountability. Due to the unpopularity of the ‘rates’ (the taxation system the poll tax was to replace), successive governments had given grants to local authorities to enable them to maintain expenditure levels without increasing rates proportionally. Therefore, an increasing amount of local authority expenditure was financed by central government. Local electors could vote for increased services knowing they would only have to pay a small proportion of the cost. The Thatcher administration, faced with this situation of limited accountability, introduced poll tax to establish accountability and curb spending.
   Criticism of the poll tax was varied and widespread. Most notably, due to the flat rate nature of the tax, it was criticized for its regressive nature (which is to say, the incidence fell disproportionately on lower income groups), despite some exemptions. Animadversion of this nature was not limited to the Left; within the Conservative Party, MPs Sir George Young and Michael Mates both put forward amendments in the House of Commons which sought to vary the incidence of the tax in relation to income. These amendments were defeated. The regressive nature of the tax had also been noted outside parliament, where popular opposition grew.
   As the tax was based upon the electoral register, it was also claimed that the poll tax had an undemocratic element. Because some of the poorer sections of society may have remained off the register, the Conservative Party secured a larger victory at the 1992 election than would otherwise have been the case.
   It was the widespread unpopularity of the tax which resulted in its downfall. Organized campaigns of non-payment and rioting in Trafalgar Square are the most public examples of popular resistance. After the change of leadership in November 1990, the ‘Tory Titanic’, as MP John Biffen had labelled it, sank.
   Further reading
    Esam, P. and Oppenheim, C. (eds) (1989) A Charge On The Community The Poll Tax, Benefits and The Poor, London: CPAG Limited.
   ALASTAIR LINDSLEY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • poll tax — / pōl / n: a tax of a fixed amount per person levied on adults Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996. poll tax …   Law dictionary

  • Poll tax — Poll Poll, n. [Akin to LG. polle the head, the crest of a bird, the top of a tree, OD. pol, polle, Dan. puld the crown of a hat.] 1. The head; the back part of the head. All flaxen was his poll. Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. A number or aggregate of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • poll-tax — pollˈ money or pollˈ tax noun A tax of so much a head, ie on each person alike • • • Main Entry: ↑poll …   Useful english dictionary

  • poll tax — ➔ tax1 …   Financial and business terms

  • poll tax — n [Date: 1600 1700; Origin: poll head ; POLL1] a tax of a particular amount that is collected from every citizen of a country …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • poll-tax|er — «POHL TAK suhr», noun. U.S. Informal. person supporting the levy of a poll tax …   Useful english dictionary

  • poll tax — n. a tax per head, levied on individuals rather than on property: such a tax as a prerequisite for voting is unconstitutional in the U.S …   English World dictionary

  • poll tax — poll ,tax noun count an amount of money collected as a tax from every adult citizen of a particular country …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • poll tax — poll′ tax n. gov a capitation tax, sometimes levied as a prerequisite for voting • Etymology: 1685–95 …   From formal English to slang

  • poll tax — ► NOUN ▪ a tax levied on every adult, without reference to their income or resources …   English terms dictionary

  • Poll-tax — (engl., spr. pōl täcks, »Kopfsteuer«), in England Bezeichnung des zum Behuf der Parlamentswahlen zusammengestellten Wahlregisters und des Wahlaktes selbst …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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