Economics lookahead: w/c 26 March

What to expect in the week to come.


  • The Budget debate is timetabled to finish today, shortly before the House begins recess. Since the Budget last week, the Chancellor's "granny tax" – a real-terms cut in pensions for middle-income pensioners – has been the subject of several waves of backlash and counter-backlash.
  • The think tank Reform holds a seminar on "stimulus versus austerity".
  • The left-wing Compass group holds its annual lecture. The topic this year is "The Craft of Co-operation" and it is given by the London School of Economics professor Richard Sennett.    


  • The Health and Social Care Bill – the NHS bill – is likely to get royal assent by today, officially becoming law. The bill has been the subject of a last-minute, symbolic campaign to petition the Queen not to give her assent.
  • The business, innovation and skills select committee is hearing oral evidence on apprenticeships. Witnesses include the head of skills at Microsoft UK and the HR director of Morrisons supermarkets.


  • UK National Statistics releases the final growth figures for the fourth quarter of 2011/2012. Last month, it revised its estimate down by 0.2 percentage points.
  • The Financial Services Authority publishes its biannual dossier of all complaints received against companies under its jurisdiction.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States finishes its three days of oral arguments on health-care reform. The court normally takes a few weeks after oral arguments conclude to publish its opinion.


  • The Brics group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) holds its annual summit meeting. This year, it is taking place in New Delhi, India, and South Africa will be in attendence for the first time.
  • UK National Statistics releases its labour productivity statistics and the monthly service-sector figures.
  • The monetarist think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs holds its annual Hayek Memorial Lecture. This year, Professor Elinor Ostrom will speak on market failure and government regulation.
  • The think tank Centre for Cities is holding its post-Budget briefing, moved from Tuesday..


  • The UK Consumer Confidence Survey, conducted on behalf of the European Commission, is released.
  • UK National Statistics releases the Maastricht-mandated report on government debt and deficit.
Friedrich Hayek. Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

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.