Mike Denham: It's the taxman who will be having a merry Christmas

IF Father Christmas makes it down your chimney this year, you can be sure of one thing – he'll have already handed over a bulging sackful of cash to the taxman.

Because while you may think this is the season for giving, for the taxman it's a magical season for taking, with taxes on everything from Christmas trees to granny's sherry.

This year the tax on Christmas will be higher than ever. At a time when ordinary families are already under pressure, we estimate they will have to hand over an average 283 Christmas tax to the taxman.

The total bill will come to 7.2bn, an astonishing 40 per cent increase since 2008, when we last did the calculations.

The bulk of the cost is VAT, which is levied on pretty well all Christmas staples except the turkey and the brussels sprouts. And since 2008 VAT has increased from 15 per cent back to 17.5 per cent, pushing up the Christmas tax across the board.

This year VAT stands at 1.49 on a family tin of Quality Street, 2.23 on Christmas crackers from Marks & Spencer, and 9.38 on a Dior J'adore Fragrance Gift Set. Even a bunch of "Passion Pack" mistletoe gets clobbered for 1.15.

When it comes to children's toys, it is a common misconception that they're exempt from tax.

But they're not – the real "Toy Story" is that all of them are subject to VAT.

This means 5.96 on an Ultimate Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, 11.87 on a Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts express, and 2.98 on the Zhu Zhu Pets Funhouse set.

The truth is that as soon as they're old enough to hold a rattle, our children are snared in the taxman's net.

And if that's enough to have you reaching for the festive cheer, you should forget it. Alcohol is subject not only to VAT, but also to excise duty.

This means total tax of 3.44 on that bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry, and 11.13 on a bottle of Remy Martin Cognac. Christmas visits to see the family don't come cheap either. With little public transport operating, most visits will be by car, racking up a further 163m in fuel duty and VAT.

Family ties may be the bedrock of society, but to the taxman they're just another revenue opportunity.

Still, this is the season of merriment, so you'd better start making merry. In fact, we'd strongly advise you make the most of this Christmas, because things are set to be even more expensive next year.

The duties on fuel and alcohol are sure to rise further, as they do year-in, year-out.

But much more important, this coming January VAT is being increased again to an unprecedented 20 per cent. That will add a further 32 to the average family's Christmas tax next year, pushing the overall bill up to at least 8bn.

And it isn't just Christmas – that increase in VAT is something that will hit families hard throughout next year.

According to the forecast in the last Budget, it is expected to cost the average British family nearly 500 over the year as a whole, pushing their annual VAT bill above 4,000 for the first time ever (2011-12).

That will be a substantial additional burden, especially with families already facing squeezed incomes, a precarious employment outlook, and widespread economic uncertainty.

Nobody will find it easy, and the Taxpayers' Alliance was, and remains, strongly opposed to the increase.

But although we'll all be losers, with Christmas upon us it's a good time to consider those who stand to lose the most – those less fortunate than most of us.

Because VAT is a highly regressive tax, hitting the poor hardest. It's the poor who spend the highest proportion of their incomes on goods subject to VAT, so it's the poor who will suffer the biggest squeeze.

According to the Office for National Statistics, when the rate was 17.5 per cent in 2007-08, VAT cost the poorest fifth of households one pound in every eight from their net income.

The forthcoming hike to 20 per cent will push that up even further to more like one pound in every seven – a huge burden on those who can least afford it.

Let us hope that the Chancellor reflects on these matters as he tucks into his plum pudding this Christmas.

High taxes are not just a dampener on our seasonal festivities.

They all too often bear down harshly on those who can least afford them. And most fundamentally, high taxes have never ever brought forth a prosperous New Year.

Mike Denham is a research fellow at the taxpayers' Alliance.