Taxing Times

With the recent furore about possible changes to the AE system, there has been a lot of debate on SFN about the cost of taxation in France and this has got me thinking. Do we really pay more than we should? Is France really that bad? Or is it just part of the human condition to resent handing money over to the state?

Back in the UK my partner was a higher rate tax payer. It used to really wind me up that he was taxed at the same rate as a single male, despite the fact that he had a spouse and dependents. I firmly believe that any stay at home parent is doing a job, a full time job and as such, one that should be recognised and rewarded by society. Stay at home parents are the people who ensure little Kyle and Tyrone go to school rather than hang around on motorway bridges throwing rocks at passing cars.

(And should anyone want to debate the issue of working parents, please start another thread as this one is about taxation!)

We received a derisory amount of family allowance and no help with pre-school fees.

Ah yes, you say, but there was the ‘free’ health system. Well, I’d argue that nothing in life is free and you get what you pay for.

Having always been a healthy type, my first experience of the NHS was a broken arm aged 15. I was sent home from A&E and asked to return the next day as ‘there was no-one on duty in the plaster room’ - it being Sunday and all. Ah yes, you might say, but that was a long time ago. Well, it happened to a friend’s son last year. No child should be left in pain for 24 hours due to a lack of staff.

My next encounter with the NHS involved giving birth to daughter No 1. The whole event was a catalogue of mistakes from start to finish. It resulted in her being resuscitated and me receiving an apology from the doctor who performed my episiotomy. Any ladies reading will know exactly what I mean and for any male readers, suffice it to say that I was unable to sit down for well over two weeks.

Delivery number two was far better. Probably because I was only in the hospital for seven minutes before giving birth. The only issue was that no-one noticed that my baby girl had six toes.

Pregnancy number three saw me have an abortion at 22 weeks for fetal abnormality. This was a condition that could have been easily detected at 14 weeks. Unfortunately budgetary constraints mean that scans are not performed at this point. I fully accept that no health system has unlimited funds and that resources need to be allocated sensibly but equally, no-one should have to undergo such a late termination when it is entirely avoidable.

The termination itself was not an NHS success story. Despite it being pre-booked, there was no delivery room available and no midwife. I eventually gave birth alone. The hospital then ‘lost’ the body for several hours. I threw up at 9pm into a sink in my room and the vomit was not cleaned until the following morning. I was left with retained placenta, suffered two hemorrhages over the next fortnight and nearly murdered the (non English speaking) nurse who on my second trip to A&E, couldn’t read my notes and kept asking ‘Where is baby?’

Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that this is NOT a criticism of NHS staff. There are thousands of doctors and nurses who do a fantastic job. They are dedicated and committed. They are also overworked and underpaid. The NHS is underfunded and if you want a health system that works, you need to pay for it.

In contrast, our experiences in France have been fabulous.

We also get a lot more out of the system. We’ve had physio, IVF, home visits - all things that are incredibly hard to access in the UK.

Then there’s education. Despite it being technically free in the UK, I have friends who have been forced to go private as there are simply no places. I don’t for a minute think the French system is perfect or even necessarily ‘better’ but the basic principle of free education for all is still upheld.

Benefits are far more generous too. As a family on a modest income, we get all kinds of assistance, from help with the mortgage to termly grants for school dinners. Proportionately we get way more than we would in the UK. Then there are subsidised holidays for both the kids and us as a family, cheap rail travel and holiday clubs.

I fully appreciate that there are people who currently pay more in than they get back and I’m sure that there will come a point in our lives when this is true for us too. But I also firmly believe that society has a duty to support the vulnerable.

I don’t want to live in a country where only certain classes can access health care. I don’t want to live in a country where we don’t provide for the aged. I don’t want to live in a country where I pay less at the expense of others.

Don’t get me wrong - I don’t relish paying taxes. Who does? But like cervical smears and root canal treatment, I think they are a necessary, if unpleasant, part of life.

Absolutely agree and Finn especially has provided loads of SFN members with lots of advice so thank you Finn :)

Yes understood Catharine, it is always necessary to get the right official and professional advise, thank you for the link. At the same time members advise and experience is always of great help in at least understanding the right direction, so thank you also Finn.

As taxation legislation can change overnight (!) and is always going to be subject to change on at least an annual basis, the ONLY place I would ever recommend consulting is the official site.

A quick google will generally take you to the appropriate page - in this case it is here and if you have any translation queries, I'm sure one of the many fluent French speaking SFN members will offer to help.

Thanks, it is at present our primary residence, but only since Jan, does anyone know the period you must reside?

Same feelings here Peter. We have a little apartment in France but were planningon moving there permanently, chased out of our own country by politicians and bureaucrats favoring everybody but local businessmen. We thought that at least we could add some sunshine to our troubled lives elsewhere.
I too don't think it is worth the trouble in the current economic and political climate to move south.

We have had a house in France for 13 years and only moved here full time in January this year. The entire question of the economy nd how th Government has been a serious concern as our intention was to settle down full time with France as our home base.
Looking at the entire taxation and business environment i has waited to take the step of registration with all the authorities. Having thought about this very seriously we have decided to move to another EU Country, Latvia and revert to using France as a second home.
We had several plans for business investment but these are transportable and we can conduct them from any EU business environment.
So from the French perspective we will not employ around 6 people or invest about €500,000 and pay associated fees and taxes.
One could argue who cares, but I do think that we are not alone in our decision we know of several expats locally who have decided or are considering business and personal relocation.
We hope to continue enjoying our summers here as we have for 13 years, but we do not find it the right time or place to invest and employ.

I agree with Annette. There's too many takers, too many hand-outs, too much debt. It is then taken from the 'normal' workers and especially small-time self-employed. Easy pickings, we cannot afford to defend ourselves like the few rich people and companies can..... who are thus NOT paying.

I don't think the discussion in Europe is about paying a fair tax for fair services..... it is about paying unfair taxes to benefit others that have nothing to do with our daily lives.

I'll add that I completely agree with Finn's statement about taxation hurting businesses. Most of my husband's family members are business owners so I've had some first-hand experience with the taxation related to business. I believe France is hurting itself in the way it treats business owners, particularly small business owners. I saw this same thing in Louisiana (a French "relative," at one time one of the worst states to own a business. It was also the state with one of the worst economies. Who wants to start a new business in a place that is not business friendly? I believe France could greatly improve its economy by revising its business taxation laws and attract new businesses here, from French people and from outside countries.

On French taxes and benefits: Before I moved to France I was a staunch conservative (American). While the liberal democrats in the States have been holding France up as a model social system for many years, I was totally against it. I didn't think it was the State's job to take care of everyone and I wanted the "choices" that being a US citizen gave me with regards to healthcare, taxes, education, etc. Without going into all of my ideology, that was then. Since moving to France, I've changed my opinions somewhat. I don't agree with all of France's tax laws and social system, but I can see the benefits now.

Personally, I don't yet receive many of those benefits (that's another story). I don't have free healthcare here. I pay full price. And yet even at full price, the cost is 1/4 the cost of what I pay for the same care in the US and my experience to date is that it has been higher quality. Yes, I've been against the high taxation with social benefits; but it's very comforting now to know that if I have a major health issue, I'll get care and I won't pay out the nose.

My son is in private school, so I don't get the benefit of free education either (our choice). But private school here is also about 1/4 of what I paid in the US. So I'm not complaining.

Do I like paying higher taxes? No. But who does? I feel I'm getting some benefit, even without getting all of the benefits.

When I first moved to France I was shocked at how much more expensive most things are here, compared to the States. I thought it was more expensive to live here. Not to mention my US dollars lose so much value here. But then I talked to a French citizen living and working in the States. He thinks it's more expensive to live there (paying less taxes, but health insurance premiums and other things we don't pay in France.) After comparing notes, I came to the conclusion that it's pretty much a wash for me.

I think it's different for everyone and depends on your country of origin, your health situation, whether or not you can children, your income, etc. As for me, I'm now content with the trade-off. (Although I reserve the right to complain!)

In short, rather than saying one is better than the other generally, I've come to the conclusion that I'm simply more open-minded than I was a few years ago. Living in another country tends to do that for many people--open our eyes to alternate ideas.

I do, however, wish Geant was open 24 hours, like WalMart.

Actually Jeannine, it is a double-edged sword. I work mainly in children's rights and a very large segment of all children are neglected, abused, unwanted and unprotected, which is not my own view but that of individuals like myself, organisations working for/with children, various commission, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and many others. They deserve more, the best that society has to offer of course. However, with a range of issues from complacency, via outright ignorance to actual hatred of children one sometimes wonders. I am a parent, some of us will always be, but I bear the duties and responsibilities that brings and share the world with my children as equals. I expect no concessions from society and do not wish to whinge about what I do or do not get.

For all of that, spot on Catharine.

I absolutely agree with Jeannine's statement that "Of course all existing children and adults deserve the best that society can offer." I think it's quite interesting that this morning I noticed this headline in the UK press, then came home to two letters informing me that I'm entitled to a 'coup de pouce' and a 'bourse de college.'

Personally I think that this says quite a lot about the two societies in question!

Bravo to ANNETTE GRANDJEAN RONNE Annete Grandjean Ronne for having the courage to say,

"I don't burden the state with the cost of kids, why don't I get a discount, especially in a world that is overpopulated as it is?"

I too get frustrated by the situation of people who choose to have children for their own pleasure, and then get so many benefits from the state. I chose not to have children because I believe human overpopulation is a root problem on the planet and I do not regret my decision at the age of 55. But do I get any discount , any gesture of the thanks from the state for not adding to it's social au contrare.

In our cultural insanity people seem to believe we need to have more children to have more taxpayers to support the system!!!! But if the costs of giving social support to individuals continually exeeds the amount of money available to do so how can this be true?

Yes, yes, I know all the parents will be up in arms saying but we must continure the human species. Of course we will always have enough new humans for that. But lets face it people have multiple chldren for their own pleasure not because we lack enough humans. Of course all existing children and adults deserve the best that society can offer. But when will we advance enough to stop making non-breeders pay more than the breeders pay?

Very well put Catherine!

I am a bit stumped by this tax obsession. One way or another it strikes me that in the European countries I have lived in and had a 'tax' bill that governments get money out of me by various means that come to much of a muchness. If it is not called tax it is called something else but it still goes to one level of government or another. On reflection I do not really think there is much between any of the countries. When I just think about what our council tax bill was in the UK before coming here then this seems fair enough. People grumble about no rubbish collection and so on but there are the bins. We had fortnightly collection in the well off part of a well off Welsh city. Roadsweepers or pothole menders did not turn up as often as here and we are in the sticks here. Clearing verges twice, three times a year like here, no never. One could go on. I too could fix on one thing like the rubbish and forget the rest but I am not discontent so I will not.

As an AE am I overtaxed? No way. I pay less than I did on comparable amounts in the UK with all the stoppages not called tax. I tend to agree with Catharine as she puts in simply about one cheque there.

Are taxes fair or unfair? Yes, but everywhere and only because they are inequitable and the less well off one is the proportionately greater the bill so that comparing SMIC and below to billionaires comes out anything but what we would like to see. Unless you happen to be rich, that is.

You look a lot younger than me, so you probably don't remember the days of the Married Man's Allowance and further allowances for dependent children where he could earn more before paying tax. Later on that was transferable to whichever spouse could use it best. When it was done away with, Child Benefit became payable to all mothers directly, the argument being that many men didn't actually give their wives the money they gained on tax from their allowances. This was said to be a way to make sure she got the money and is the reason that Child Benefit has not been means tested until recently.

A lot of the good things you mention has to do with children and families with children; and this is most likely the situation, in France, a country that loves families and kids; but if you don't have kids, all these things are things you pay to, and that's it. I don't know what it is like to receive, receive, receive, but it can be pretty frustrating to pay, pay, pay:)

Maybe the problem in France, as in so many other European countries is that there is a division of people, those that pay, and those that receive. Again if you belong to the group that receives all the wonderful financial benefits, good for you, but if you belong to the group that does not, it's difficult not to get frustrated sometimes, when you just pay, pay, pay. I don't burden the state with the cost of kids, why don't I get a discount, especially in a world that is overpopulated as it is?

I will agree with you that France does have a good health care system, but it is very expensive, also due to the administrative costs, and it's not free. I don't know what the health care system is like in England (?), it does sound bad, but you hear horror stories like the ones you give from countries with very expensive health care systems as well (I know of a few from the Danish HCS that ended in premature death!).

Support the vulnerable, who are they? Obviously there are always people in any given society that needs help, but are there as many as those who live on helping them claim? Are we all victims of our own existence? Isn't the help just an administrative cost? A cost that necessitates more public employees and thus increase public expenses? There are statistically7proportionally more weak and vulnerable people in Europe today than ever before, and more people living on "taking care" of these peoples needs than ever before, and debts a running out of control, coincidence? Of course not.

France is like so many other European countries a system of take and overspend + give out again; perhaps if France dealt out less, she would be able to take less, ie lower taxes, and thus one wouldn't feel like such an idiot when working, working, working, in theory as an independent, but in truth for the STATE.

Maybe some of the complaining isn't due to a system that wants to take care of people, but due to the fact that the system is out of control and it isn't fair anymore.

Sally I absolutely agree with your comments re expansion and getting rid of staff. And I agree that AE is the only realistic way for the majority of people to be able to set up in business. However as an AE, I certainly don't feel sick every time I go to the post box. I know exactly what I am going to have to pay and when I am going to have to pay it.

(And yes, I lumped cotisations in with tax for the purposes of this post - but as an AE I write one cheque so subconsciously I consider it as NI - which pays for the stuff I get back from the state whether healthcare or pension rights)

And ps - any chance of a profile photo please? Thanks!

I thought you said it was about taxation?

Well said.