Sunday, January 3, 2010

Teach them about tax too

Does anyone else consider today's 'news' to be ironic?

Under a new personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) curriculum which becomes compulsory next year, all pupils in England, aged five to 16 will be given financial literacy lessons and taught how to save. This is commendable stuff - more so when you read the details rather than simply controversial and contrived headlines. The Mirror, for example, reports that "Children as young as FIVE will be taught how to manage bank accounts and budget." - Er. No. That's not very likely at all nor is it what the announcement says.

I prefer the Observer's headline: Children to be taught perils of debt or The Times: Pupils to be given lessons on debt. And there is the irony as it this Government that has created a new generation of graduates who are saddled with £15-£20k of debt even before they start work. It's all too easy to anticipate that these same graduates will spend upto the limit on new free credit cards. After all what's another £2k?

Ed Balls, the children schools and families secretary, is reported to have said: "It's really important that we teach our children about pensions, responsible saving and effective money management." The full departmental press release is here.

Teaching children about the difference between good debt and bad debt is important. Justifying student loans as 'good' debt will then have to follow - although I'm not sure it satisfies all the usual criteria.

One crucial element of effective money management concerns the basics of our tax system. Children don't need to know about this in detail at the age of 5 any more than they need to learn how to manage a bank account at that age. However they do need to understand some of the basics about tax before they leave school to go out to work.

A recent conversation with a hairdresser serves to ilustrate the point. She told me she is self employed but works in a salon owned by someone else. When she left school she started working in a local salon and got paid her wages each week. The expression 'cash in hand' didn't mean anything to her. As far as she knew this was normal and she did what her boss - whom she assumed to be her employer - asked of her. That was all long ago but no one had ever taught her the different tax obligations for the self employed and for employees. Or indeed the differences between being an employee and really being self employed even if working regularly for the same person.

According to the National Curriculum website, Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education brings together personal, social and health education, work-related learning, careers, enterprise, and financial capability. In practice PSHE is intended to cover all those life lessons that we demand schools 'teach' although they are not examined so are rarely seen as a priority.

Bottom line? Even though PSHE has its detractors, please can we also ensure that we teach pre-school leavers a few key facts about the tax system?

What do you think?


  1. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  2. Seems I was out of date. I've just become aware that back in May 2009 HMRC launched Tax Matters, a set of three online interactive PSHE modules for 11 - 19 year olds, covering:

    * Income Tax
    * National Insurance
    * Tax and Society (Citizenship)