How cuts will hit the poorest hardest

New research shows how the poorest areas of the country will suffer the greatest loss of income.

In recent weeks Nick Clegg has attempted to reassure voters about the coming cuts by promising to deliver what he describes as "progressive austerity" and to prevent the emergence of a new north-south divide.

But new research by the Financial Times shows just how unrealistic and disingenuous this promise is. The analysis looked at how different regions of the country would be affected if social security benefits were reduced by 10 per cent and if public-sector areas, excluding health, were cut by 20 per cent.

It found that the poorest areas would be disproportionately hit on both measures. For instance, benefit cuts would make household income in west Wales and the Welsh valleys fall by 3.6 per cent, compared to a drop of less than 0.5 per cent in inner London. Areas such as Northern Ireland, the north of England and the south-west would suffer the greatest fall in income, while regions such as the Home Counties and London would suffer the least.

Given that public spending follows need, it is the poorest areas of the country which are most reliant on the state. It therefore follows that across-the-board spending cuts will hit them hardest. The Tory minister who, in a rare moment of honesty from this government, recently admitted that "those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt" was spot on.

The danger to the poor is magnified by the coalition's decision to rely on spending cuts, rather than tax rises, to plug the deficit. The government's deficit reduction plan envisages a 4:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises, rather than the 2:1 split favoured by Labour. By comparison, during the last big fiscal tightening undertaken by a Conservative government, Ken Clarke split the pain 50:50 between tax rises and spending cuts.

Targeted tax increases on middle- and high-income earners offer a progressive alternative to spending cuts of a size not seen in the postwar era. But those hoping that Clegg will make this argument around the cabinet table will be disappointed. In an interview with the Spectator before the election, he pledged to reduce the deficit through cuts alone, a position that put him to the right of David Cameron.

So it's not that Clegg has been "turned" by the Tories -- he was never a progressive to begin with.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.