Osborne’s “progressive” façade

Talk of a “fair and progressive” Budget disguises how cuts will hit the poorest hardest.

The coalition is determined to present today's Budget as "fair and progressive", with tax rises for the richest and tax cuts for the poorest. But does the rhetoric match the reality?

On tax, George Osborne will point to the plan (first mooted by the Lib Dems) to raise the personal tax allowance by £1,000 to £7,475, a move that will take 850,000 of the lowest-paid out of income tax altogether.

But this measure isn't as progressive as it initially appears. For a start, those individuals too poor to pay tax in the first place will gain nothing from the move. In 2009-2010, only 62 per cent of the adult population earned enough to pay income tax. Should the measure be combined with a rise in regressive VAT, the overall effect may be far from progressive.

But it's only once we take account of the likely spending cuts that any claim this Budget will be "progressive" falls apart. The coalition's decision to rely on spending cuts, rather than tax rises, to plug the deficit will have disastrous consequences for the poor.

With spending in non-ring-fenced departments poised to fall by up to 25 per cent, it is the poorest who will be hardest hit. As I noted yesterday, an analysis by the Financial Times showed that cuts would hit large parts of the north twice as hard as the south.

Today's FT contains a succinct explanation:

Spending cuts of such a scale could not be presented as "progressive" because public spending is concentrated in poorer areas and poorer families, suggesting that the Budget will have a sting in the tail.

Will Osborne, a better politician than he is an economist, have the chutzpah to claim that his cuts are "progressive"? If he does, Labour will be presented with an open goal.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Grandpa was ill and wasn’t keen on climbing the volcano – but we forced him up all the same

I squinted. Apart from a gleam of turquoise, the view was of one big cloud. Slowly the words started to form in my head. Just. Like. Scotland.

At first, Grandpa was sceptical about the volcano. “I used to be into that kind of thing,” he said, “but not now.” He did not mention that he was 88.

The guidebook to Indonesia – which he disdained – described how, once you got to the crater, the mist would rise to reveal a shimmering lake. His fellow travellers, my sister and I, often joked about our family’s tendency to declare everything to be “just like Scotland”. This was a living, breathing volcano. It would be nothing like Scotland.

But as Grandpa reminisced about his childhood in the Dutch East Indies, he began to warm to the idea. We set off at 7am and drove past villages with muddled terracotta roofs and rice paddies spread across the valleys like glimmering tables. We talked excitedly about our adventure. Then it began to rain. “Perhaps it will blow over,” I said to my sister, as the view from the windows turned into smears.

Our driver stopped at a car park. With remarkable efficiency, he opened the doors for us and drove away. The rain was like gunfire.

To get to the crater, we had to climb into an open-sided minibus where we sat shivering in our wet summer clothes. Grandpa coughed. It was a nasty cough, which seemed to be getting worse; we had been trying to persuade him to go to a pharmacy for days. Instead, we had persuaded him up a cold and wet mountain.

Five minutes passed, and the minibus didn’t budge. Then another bedraggled family squeezed in. I thought of all the would-be volcano tourists curled up in their hotels.

“Look,” I said to the attendant. “My grandfather is not well. Can we please start?”

He shook his head. “Not till all seats are full.” We exchanged a glance with the other family and paid for the empty seats. The driver set off immediately.

The minibus charged up a road through the jungle, bouncing from puddle to puddle. Grandpa pulled out his iPhone and took a selfie.

The summit was even colder, wetter, rainier and more unpleasant. We paid a small fortune to borrow an umbrella and splashed towards the lake. My sister stopped by a fence.

“Where is it?” I said.

“I think . . . this is it,” she replied.

I squinted. Apart from a gleam of turquoise, the view was of one big cloud. Slowly the words started to form in my head. Just. Like. Scotland.

I thought remorsefully of the guidebook, how I’d put my sightseeing greed before my grandfather’s health. Then I noticed the sign: “Danger! Do not approach the sulphur if you have breathing problems.”

Grandpa, still coughing, was holding the umbrella. He beckoned me to join him. I didn’t know it then, but when we made it back to the car, he would be the first to warm up and spend the journey back telling us stories of surviving the war.

But at that moment, in the dreich rain, he gave me some advice I won’t forget.

“If anyone tells you to go and see a volcano,” he said, “you can tell them to fuck off.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution