So who pays?

When forced to find new resources, the coalition's instinct is to take them from low-to-middle incom

Just in case you were under any doubt about where the burden of today's widely expected cuts to tax credits will fall, the chart below should make it clear. Over 75 per cent of the pain of today's changes to tax credits is felt by the bottom half of the income distribution. The vast majority of these from families with children.

graph

The decision to scrap the planned increases in Child Tax Credit (hitherto the coalition's one emblem of its commitment to tackle child poverty), together with other cuts to Working Tax Credit, will mean more than £1.2bn of cuts in 2012.

The changes to the child tax credit will mean families lose the extra £110 per child that they had been expecting in 2012; and the freezing of the Working Tax Credit will reduce the incomes of working families by a further £100. How many will be affected altogether? Around 5.5 million families will lose as a result of the changes to child tax credit, with 2 million facing a double hit because of the working tax credit changes.

This latest squeeze on family finances comes on top of a raft of other already announced cuts to tax credits, many of which don't bite until April 2012. Together they add to up to approximately £2.9 billion of cuts in 2012-13, roughly 10 percent of the total tax credit budget.

There were actually a number of relatively small announcements that should be welcomed today - above all the doubling of childcare places for disadvantaged two year olds. But the wrong people where paying for this.

If you really want to unpick what is going on in politics -- above all on the day of spending announcements -- it is always best to ignore the words spoken and instead follow the detail of the choices made. Today revealed one thing above all else -- when put in a corner, and forced to find new resources, the coalition's instinct is clear: take them from the tax credits going to low-to-middle income families.

Gavin Kelly is a former adviser to Downing Street and the Treasury. He tweets @GavinJKelly1.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.