The Daily Mail's bizarre attack on Clegg's tax plan

The paper defines "the middle class" as anyone earning over £50,000. But only 10% do.

When the Daily Mail declares that Nick Clegg is planning to "soak the middle class", before adding that the Deputy Prime Minister "wants to hit millions earning over £50,000 with higher tax bills", you could be forgiven for assuming that the former does not refer to the latter.

As the Office for National Statistics reported last year, the median full-time UK salary is £26,200. Those who earn at least twice as much (as only 10% do) are not, despite the Mail's protestations, entirely representative of the country's middle class. Nor are those whose homes are worth than £1m (as just 3.1% of properties are) easily identifiable as standard bearers of the "squeezed middle". Yet nowhere in its account of the Deputy Prime Minister's holy war against the "middle class" does the Mail find room for such details.

In his interview on the Today programme this morning, Clegg rightly declared: "don't dismiss 90% of the country ... 90% of people in the country would think a salary of £60,000, £70,000, £80,000 is a considerable amount of money" (many of them Mail readers, one might add). Until the media realises as much, our political debate will continue to be distorted by statistical illiteracy.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg takes a Q&A session at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.