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The Mirrlees Review

Researchers: Professor Sir Richard Blundell

Project overview

The Mirrlees Review, chaired by the Nobel laureate Sir James Mirrlees, sought to identify the characteristics of a good tax system for an open developed economy in the 21st century. It concluded Britain’s tax system is ripe for reform in ways that could significantly improve people’s welfare and the performance of the economy.

The Review set out a comprehensive set of proposals for tax reform. The key principles that underlie the proposals are that the tax system should:

  • be designed as a whole, in conjunction with the benefits system. The system as a whole needs to be green and to be progressive. But not every tax needs to be green or progressive. Indeed, not all should be. The way taxes (and the benefit system) fit together matters very much.
  • seek neutrality. Tax systems that distort people’s behaviour by treating similar activities differently without very good reason –  as the UK system currently does – create inefficiency, complexity and opportunities for avoidance. Exceptions, to deal with the costs of smoking or pollution for example, should be limited and carefully designed.
  • achieve progressivity as efficiently as possible. That means relying on the rate schedule of personal taxes and benefits ‘ rather than inefficiently distorting the tax base ‘ to achieve redistribution. It also means designing that rate schedule carefully to minimise the extent to which the tax system reduces employment and earnings.

The review was undertaken by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Economic & Social Research Council.

The Review is being published by Oxford University Press. The first, Dimensions of Tax Design, consists of a set of specially commissioned chapters dealing with different aspects of the tax system, accompanied by a series of commentaries by different expert authors, voicing differing opinions on the issue discussed. It was published in April 2010. The second volume, Tax by Design, sets out the conclusions of the Review and was published in September 2011.

Latest on this project


  • Professor Sir Richard Blundell
    Institute for Fiscal Studies

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.