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The UK Air Passenger Duty is unfair

The environment secretary is right: the treasury is wrong. Rt Hon Brian Wilson, Chairman of FlyingMatters, says that the UK Air Passenger Duty is unfair and cannot be seen as a tax on the elite

The UK Environment Secretary, Ed Miliband, recently declared that lower-income people should not be priced out of flying on environmental grounds. The UK Treasury appears to have no such qualms about airborne elitism since the impact of draconian increases in Air Passenger Duty, dressed up in spurious green clothes, will be exactly the one that Mr Miliband has rejected.

The vast majority of us take it for granted that we will, occasionally, be able to afford to visit friends and family in far flung places or go on holiday abroad. It is a remarkable change from just 30 years ago when flying was still the preserve of the elite. It would be unjust and futile to implement policies designed to revert to that position.

The Government’s own figures confirm that the current rises in APD are expected to price over a million and a half people out of flying each year—with the prospect of much more to come.

The fundamental unfairness of these flight tax rises is evidenced by a recent study by the UK National Centre for Social Research, which showed that people on low and middle incomes were most likely to stop flying altogether when prices were forced up, while those on higher incomes simply change to cheaper destinations.

The figures are eye watering. The tax will rise in stages so that by November next year a family of four flying to Jamaica will pay $495 (GBP300) in tax alone, compared with $264 (GBP160) now. The same family will pay $562 (GBP340) in tax to go to Sydney, more than double the current rate.

Research carried out by Populus showed that nearly half the population have loved ones living abroad and that many people combine holidays with visiting friends and family. The research also showed that cost of travel is the main factor in how often they can visit their loved ones abroad.

And what of those parts of the world which rely heavily on UK tourism to support their economies? Kenya, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, to name a few. There is real fear that the cost of flying to these countries will put off so many visitors that their economies will be badly hit.

If the blatant unfairness were not enough, the tax is completely ineffective in environmental terms. APD is not hypothecated for environmental purposes. It doesn’t go towards research to reduce emissions either in aviation or other industries, whereas the aviation industry already spends more than $4.1 billion (GBP2.5 billion) a year on research and development to reduce its climate impact.

The UK is out of step on this issue given progress on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) at EU level and the focus at the Copenhagen Summit in December on securing the inclusion of aviation in a global scheme to address its climate impact. Unilateral action by the UK government will cause economic pain for no environmental gain.

There is no economic or environmental justification for this socially regressive measure. As the UK public realise that the doors to the world are beginning to close for a large number of them, they may well express their disapproval at the ballot box. This time, the Environment Secretary is right and the Treasury is wrong.

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