I certainly understand that anger, and I suspect that there will be even more anger if the Government do not address the unfair way in which the distribution of the pension tax relief has developed, especially since the simplification from A-day in 2006. We tried to address the problem by targeting the people at the very top who had benefited the most from the relief in particular.
We received representations from stakeholders who called for a simpler system, and it would be wrong of me to try to claim that the system for which we legislated was simple-it was clearly complex. However, when dealing with people on very high earnings who use complex financial arrangements, we often find that that complexity must be matched to ensure that a fair amount of tax is taken from them. In tax and benefit law, as the Economic Secretary will know-she probably struggles with this every day-there is always a trade-off between simplification and fairness, as well as yield. We took the view that despite the complexities of the system that we were introducing, it was right to target very high earners in particular. I state the distributional analysis again: the top 300,000 people receive 25% of £18.9 billion. No right-thinking person in this country with any kind of understanding of what the term "fairness" means would want us to tolerate that kind of distribution.
Simplification is always a popular cry, but there are trade-offs, and it causes different problems if we create a simpler system. We did consider other options, but the trade-offs are inescapable. We want to explore in debate today how the Government are working their way through the trade-offs, so that we can try to assess whether the solution that the Government have hinted at, but have not put before us, is fair, or whether its outcome is less fair than the outcome of the system that we decided on.
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