Where do the public stand on abortion?

Forty nine per cent of women support a reduced time limit, compared with 24% of men.

To the likely dismay of Downing Street, Jeremy Hunt's comments on abortion are leading the news this morning, with David Cameron's restatement of support for the NHS entirely overshadowed.

In response to Hunt's call for a halving of the abortion time limit, from 24 weeks to 12, the Guardian's Katharine Viner tweeted: "If men could get pregnant, what would be the time limit on abortion?" It's a good question, but what's interesting (and to many, surprising) is that women have more conservative views on the subject than men.

A YouGov poll published in January found that 49% of women favoured a lower limit, compared with 24% of men. Of that 49%, 11% want it reduced to 22 weeks, 14% to 20 weeks and 23% to "below 20 weeks". Thirty per cent of women would like the limit to remain at 24 weeks, compared with 39% of men. However, asked if abortion should be banned altogether, eight per cent of men said it should, compared with five per cent of women.

In total, just 17% of people shared Hunt's view that the legal limit should be reduced to "below 20 weeks". Thirty four per cent said that it should remain at 24 weeks, five per cent said it should be increased, eight per cent said it should be reduced to 22 weeks and 12 per cent said it should be reduced to 20 weeks.

The unrepresentative nature of Hunt's views is further evidence of why the Health Secretary has done his party no favours by promoting them so strongly.

Abortion rights campaigners demonstrate outside the House of Commons in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.