The Tories hit back on Mumsnet

Conservatives accuse Labour of lying over tax credits, but who's right?

After Labour used Mumsnet to attack the Conservatives' plans to reduce tax credits, the Tories have hit back with an advert of their own.


The Labour ad, you may remember, claimed that the Tories would abolish tax credits for all families with incomes over £31,000, rather than £50,000. The Tory ad rejects this claim as "complete spin" and, in a related blog post, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Theresa May, goes further and describes it as a "lie".


So who's right?

Labour claimed that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that lowering the threshold to £50,000 would raise only £45m and not, as George Osborne claims, £400m. To raise that sum, the shadow chancellor would have to lower the threshold to £31,000, said Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Here's what the IFS said:

Without access to HMRC's data, it is not possible for us to say precisely how much money would be raised by the Conservative Party's proposal having allowed for incomplete take-up, but it can be stated confidently that it would be less than £0.4 billion (because that would require lowering the threshold to £31,000), but more than £45 million (which is what would be raised if the threshold at £50,000 were replaced by a cliff-edge, as this is the total amount to which families with incomes exceeding £50,000 are entitled).

IFS Green Budget 2010, Page 168

So the Tories are wrong to claim that their plan would raise £400m but Labour is equally wrong to claim it would raise just £45m. But after their disingenuous poster on Labour's "death tax" earlier this week, the Tories aren't really in a position to cry foul.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.