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.


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 chief executive of the Resolution Foundation 

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

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