A poll tax is a fixed fee that must be paid by each individual in a given group. A poll tax may also be called a head tax or capitation; this is often done because any given country may have very specific instances of poll taxes from the past that have polluted the term in voters' minds. Poll taxes are an exemplar of a regressive tax.

In the late 80s Margaret Thatcher's Government in Britain attempted to introduce a poll tax for financing local government. This was aimed to replace the older rates system whereby the amount a household was charged was based upon the value of the property in which they lived.

The "Community Charge" (as it was officially called) caused widespread popular resentment as it meant that every adult in an area paid an equal amount. For example I knew a stockbroker who lived in a large 5-bedroom house while next door a similar house had been subdivided into eight flats; the occupant of each flat (some of whom were students) each had to pay the same amount as the very wealthy stockbroker next door.

Public protests against the Poll Tax grew, culminating in an enormous demonstration in central London in 1990 which was attended by between 250,000 and half a million people. The strength of popular feeling was such that eventually the Conservative Party was forced to abolish the poll tax and ultimately to remove Thatcher as Prime Minister.

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended the vote to black men in 1874. Some Southern states, fearing that freed slaves would use the power to vote to upset the status quo, worked around this law by adopting poll taxes -- no money, no ballot. This guaranteed that former slaves and poor people of any sort would not vote because they would not have enough money to pay the poll tax. The 24th Amendment made this practice illegal in 1964.

Poll Tax (officially Community Charge) was an incredibly clever idea; which resulted in a 'fairer taxation' of people to pay for local council services. It was imposed on the population by the very right wing Margaret Thatcher during what turned out to be her final term as prime minister, saying that it would show how inefficient the mostly Labour Councils were; which the Conservative government mostly detested.

As the costs of the services that a house requires are related to the number of people in a house, so the Poll Tax was chargeable per person. This was fairer in that people actually paid pretty much for the costs of the services they used. However, there is a big difference between costs and charges. The charges were also related to how much money the councils were spending and the general ambience of the local area the house was in, but then the previous council tax was heavily correlated to those factors anyway, so it seemed to make little difference, but the Government claimed that it would show how inefficient the councils actually were.

It probably looked very clever politically. Her backers tended to be very rich and paying large amounts of money in council rates; as the previous rateable value was calculated based on the size of their large houses, however in addition the number of people living in the houses was often low- it turns out that their bill was cut to a small fraction.

But the other side of the coin is that it is a tax; taxes are supposed to be related to the ability to pay; otherwise they become not a tax, but a punishment on being poor, and a punishment that isn't easily avoidable. For example, some relatively small properties had 8 or more people living there; in that case the tax went from a few hundred pounds to possibly a few thousand pounds per year; these people had no escape from the debt that acrued and ended up in court through no fault of their own.

Further the tax was disasterously impractical to administer. First, the tax was to be charged in the local government area they were living; and a law was passed that people had to register and reregister when they moved. It turned out that many people evaded the tax by simply moving and failing to register, and it turned out that people move a LOT more than the government expected. (The previous council tax was charged to the owner of the property, and the owner is generally much more traceable than a tennant.)

The Poll Tax triggered a 10% non payment level, riots and demonstations involving hundreds of thousands of people; and cost the country billions of pounds, (the number of extra people needed to administer the poll tax was massive, so the overall tax bill was increased enormously.) Finally and deservedly it triggered the removal of Margaret Thatcher, who had been a relatively popular leader. The iron lady was tarnished, rusted, and blown away by this spectacularly ill thought out strategy. The Conservative government under a new leader John Major fairly quickly replaced the system with a more sensible scheme and just barely survived for just a couple of further terms; but as soon as the opposition became electable they were booted out as well, and at present just barely constitute an opposition party.

All in all a classic example of what happens when political leaders get too far from the interests of the population that puts and keeps them there.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.