Are the rich paying their fair share of taxes? Why do so few women study economics at university? Should we be doing more to tackle the gender pay gap?
To many, economics is a study of money. It’s done by stuffy old men wearing well-worn suits crunching some numbers. This is not the case. What we saw and heard in Bristol at the Festival of Economics was far from it. The conception of lifeless economists is most definitely a misconception.
The day began with an insightful presentation by Helen Miller (Associate Director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies) in which she helped answer this first question regarding tax. In the UK, only 60 out of 100 adults pay income tax. 60% of this tax is paid for by the top 10. Of those 10, the richest earner contributes towards 25% of all income tax. However, there are many other forms of tax, and Helen also introduced us to what is viewed as the “most unfair” tax (inheritance tax) and the “most fair tax” (the tax on cigarettes and tobacco). Her presentation was not only very topical but furthermore, it gave us a glimpse of the type of problems she is tasked with solving at the IFS.
We were also lucky enough to hear from an agent from the Bank of England, a representative from the Office for National Statistics, and a member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. They explained what their jobs involved and gave us valuable advice on studying economics at university. In particular, they encouraged more girls to get involved, in what is a powerfully important field of work.
In line with this, during the afternoon we took part in a school challenge whereby we were asked to produce a poster offering proposals to the government as to how to solve the gender pay gap. Our poster included reasons why it is a problem, what causes it and ways to tackle it. This task was a clear example of how we can use economics to help deliver better solutions. We were therefore delighted to be awarded second place out of 25 teams, and are even more excited about our prize – a trip to Hamburg to compete in an international economics competition.
The Festival certainly gave us a new and intuitive understanding of what economics is really about; a study of the behaviour and choices that every one of us makes. It helped us to realise that we are all caught up in this social science more than we may think, and opened our eyes to the impact of economics in the world around us. It was good not only to begin to answer the questions above but also to begin to come up with powerful questions of our own. Questions that perhaps we may pursue in our own studies of economics in the classroom and beyond.
Annabelle Moody, Upper Sixth