Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Lib Dems won't knife Nick Clegg – well, not quite yet anyway (Observer)

The misjudgments they have made in office have not been the leader's alone – as Vince Cable surely knows, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. The rich are doing their bit. Are you? (Sunday Times) (£)

Voters must be educated about the fact that there really are costs to the benefits they receive, says Dominic Lawson.

3. Dogged and decent, Chris Grayling shows how to get reform right (Sunday Telegraph)

The Paralympics should inspire politicians to continue the fight for a fairer benefits system, writes Matthew D'Ancona.

4. Our schools are being undermined by a constant rhetoric of decline (Observer)

We should stop running down the manifest improvements in the country's education system, argues Matthew Taylor.

5. Dirty ads and debate can still win it for Mitt (Sunday Times) (£)

Romney should not be underestimated, warns Andrew Sullivan.

6. We'll go down as the nation that smoked itself stupid (Mail on Sunday)

I can't fathom the double standards over cannabis, says Peter Hitchens.

7. It's thrilling to see science take centre stage in the national conversation (Observer)

To witness Stephen Hawking at the Paralympics is to be reminded of Britain's pre-eminent scientific status, says Paul Nurse.

8. We should tune in to the Romney and Ryan show (Sunday Telegraph)

The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished, argues Janet Daley.

9. Stop huffing — we all called for this crackdown on immigration (Sunday Times) (£)

The economic benefits of foreign students to Britain are highly debatable, insists Minette Marrin.

10. The Chinese puzzles of chairman Tim Yeo (Sunday Telegraph)

Tim Yeo is urging ministers to assist British firms in doing 'low-carbon' business in China, but has failed to mention that he is chairman of one such firm, writes Christopher Booker.

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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.