Inherited wealth is the great taboo of British politics. Nobody likes to talk about it, but it determines a huge number of outcomes: from participation in public life, to access to education, to the ability to save or purchase property. When David Cameron recently promised to raise the threshold for inheritance tax to £1m and praised “people who have worked hard and saved”, he is singing from the hymn sheet of inherited inequality: it is, after all, easier to save if you inherit substantial sums to squirrel away, or if you can lock money in property that is virtually guaranteed to offer huge returns. Hard work has very little to do with it.
In 2010-11, the most recent period for which we have figures, 15,584 estates of 259,989 notified for probate paid inheritance tax. That is approximately 3% of all deaths that year. Already, inheritance tax is paid by a tiny fraction of all estates. The asset composition of these estates remains stable over time, with property composing about 50% of taxable estates; a disproportionate number of these are located in London and the south-east, reflecting the rocketing house prices in that corner of the country. The “nil-rate threshold” – the value under which inherited wealth is untouched by tax – currently stands at £325,000, frozen since April 2009. But that’s only half the story. Since 2007, it has been possible for spouses to transfer their unused nil-rate band allowance to their surviving partner. This has lifted many estates in the £300-500,000 band out of inheritance tax altogether: at this point we are beginning to talk about substantial, indeed life-altering, sums of money.
Read More | “Inherited wealth is an injustice. Let’s end it” | James Butler | The Guardian