Opinionomics | 14 May 2012

Must-read comment and analysis, featuring pasty-tax funded investment and much Eurocrisis.

1. As European Austerity Ends, So Could the Euro (Bloomberg View)

The euro currency is a malady that condemns at least a generation of Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Irish to the economic infirmary, writes Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

2. The pasty tax could pay for a £30 billion infrastructure programme: four charts show why history will judge us harshly (Not the Treasury View)

Jonathan Portes writes that a £30bn infrastructure programme would cost just £150m a year, thanks to historically low gilt yields: that is the revenue raised by the pasty tax.

3. What history tells us about a potential Greek exit (Pragmatic Capitalism)

David Schawel asks what an exit from the euro would look like, and how it would be accomplished.

4. The recession deniers have gone strangely quiet this month (The Independent)

We are in the slowest recovery for a century, with no end in sight, writes David Blanchflower

5. World edges closer to deflationary slump as money contracts in China (Telegraph)

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that more and more signifiers point to depression hitting not just the developed world but the BRICS as well - and China could be the first to go.

Greek President Carolos Papoulias holds a newspaper in his office in Athens. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.