Is someone earning £80,000 a year in the top 5% and how much tax do they pay?

  1. How well-off is someone earning £80,000 a year?
  2. How much does the average UK worker earn?
  3. How much income tax do the top 5% pay?
  4. How much income tax will people pay under Labour’s policies?
  5. How much do doctors, accountants and solicitors earn?
Ben Chapman
Friday 22 November 2019 16:01 GMT
Man who earns more than £80,000 criticises Labour's tax plan
Man who earns more than £80,000 criticises Labour's tax plan

An audience member on BBC’s Question Time prompted confusion after claiming that he should not pay higher taxes because, although he earns over £80,000 per year, he is not in the top 5 per cent of earners - or even in the top half.

The man was attacking the Labour party's policy of funding its spending plans by increasing taxes only on companies and the highest-earning 5 per cent of individuals.

The incident has sparked debate about income inequality and who should pay more towards the country's schools, roads, hospitals and other public services.

But how much money do the top 5 per cent earn, how much tax do they pay and how might that change after the election?

Man who earns more than £80,000 criticises Labour's tax plan
  1. How well-off is someone earning £80,000 a year?

    Anyone on £80,000 or more is the top 3 to 4 per cent of earners in the country.

    Those earning £71,292 or more each year are in the top 5 per cent of working people in the UK, according to official figures.

    This includes full-time and part-time workers. Taking only full-time employees, anyone earning £80,945 or more is in the top 5 per cent.

    Labour said it would only raise income tax for those in the top 5 per cent. In fact, under its plans, only the top 3-4 per cent of employees will pay more and only on earnings above £80,000. Among full-time workers the top 6 per cent will pay more.

    The debate highlights commonly held misconceptions about the level of earnings in the UK.

  2. How much does the average UK worker earn?

    The audience member believed his £80,000-plus income put him “not even in the top 50 per cent” of earners. This is incorrect. The median income - or 50th percentile - is £24,897 and for full-time employees it’s £30,353.

    The average, or mean, earnings for a full-time worker are £37,428 per year. This is higher than the median because a relatively small number of very high earners skew the figures.

    These numbers are taken from a survey of 180,000 people for the Office for National Statistics. Importantly, they do not include the significant proportion of the population that does not work - retired people, the unemployed and those not seeking work.

    Among all adults, an £80,000 salary would put someone in the highest-income 3 per cent, according to the Institute for Fiscal Stucies.

    The official figures do not account for other earnings, such as income from property or other investments.

    Looking at households, rather than individuals, the top 10 per cent earn £99,880, on average, in wages. But when all income such as investments and private pensions is included, the total rises to £138,804.

    The ONS also calculates household disposable income which can give a closer approximation of people’s actual material living standards.

    Before taxes and benefits, the richest one-fifth of households had an average income of £88,200 in the financial year ending 2018.

    That’s 11.2 times the £7,900 that the lowest fifth of households earn.

    After tax and benefits, the top fifth of households have disposable income (ie everything available to spend or save) of £65,500 compared to the bottom fifth on £18,900 - a ratio of just under 4:1.

  3. How much income tax do the top 5% pay?

    Any individual earning over £50,000 per year - who is close to being in the top tenth in the UK - pays 40 per cent income tax on their earnings above £50,000.

    They pay nothing on the first £12,500 they earn and 20 per cent on earnings up to £50,000.

    Someone on £80,000 per year pays £19,496.40 in income tax - less than a quarter of their salary. They also pay £5,564 in national insurance contributions, leaving £54,939 to take home.

    The top fifth of households currently pay 30.9 per cent of their income in direct taxes such as income tax, compared with 14.7 per cent for the poorest one-fifth of people.

    However, lower earners pay proportionally much more of their wages than high earners in indirect taxes like VAT, because they have to spend a more of their income and save less.

  4. How much income tax will people pay under Labour’s policies?

    The tax rate on income over £80,000 would rise from 40 per cent to 45 per cent. Someone earning £85,000 per year would pay an extra £21 in income tax per month, according to the party’s calculations.

    Someone paid £100,000 per year would pay £83 per month more.

    Labour also wants to introduce an additional tax rate of 50 per cent for income above £125,000 per year.

    Earners in the top 1 per cent (on £134,000 each year) would pay £316 more each month, taking their annual take-home pay down to £81,000.

    People earning less than £80,000 would pay no more in income tax under Labour's plans than they do currently.

    By contrast, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives had promised to raise the higher-rate income tax threshold drastically from £50,000 to £80,000. The move would have given a tax cut for 2.5 million of the UK’s wealthiest people. This week he cancelled the plan.

    Under the Tories, the threshold at which workers must start paying National Insurance (NI) contributions will increase from £8,632 to £9,500 next year.

  5. How much do doctors, accountants and solicitors earn?

    The Question Time audience member also suggested that all doctors, accountants and solicitors earn more than £80,000. Labour's Richard Burgon disputed the assertion, saying that he had himself earned just under £40,000 when he was a solicitor - a claim that was greeted with laughs from some in the audience.

    Official figures show the median salary for a solicitor is £42,494. For chartered accountants the median is £38,805.

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