Osborne plans another raid on child benefit

Child benefit set to be abolished for over-16s as welfare is squeezed again.

Despite the trouble it caused the coalition the first time round, it looks like George Osborne is planning another raid on child benefit. Everything we've heard suggests that the benefit will be abolished for all children over 16 - a political gift for Labour. Unlike the earlier cuts, this will hit families across the income scale, not least the poorest, to whom child benefit is disproportionately valuable. And Cameron's earlier defence - that it is wrong to tax the poor to fund middle-class welfare - will be irrelevant in this case.

Conversely, it appears that the coalition is now not planning to cut the Winter Fuel Allowance, something that will make it harder to justify the child benefit cuts. An all-out assault on universal benefits would at least be intellectually coherent. Meanwhile, a story in today's FT is very revealing about Osborne's overall strategy: to squeeze welfare in order to limit departmental cuts.

It notes:

Osborne has even been trying to match Labour's plan to cut unprotected departmental spending by 20 per cent, compared with his original plan of 25 per cent. His aides admit this is "optimistic", while Labour scoffs, saying it could only be achieved by financial sophistry on a grand scale, including changing baselines and adding contingency reserves.

There's no chance of Osborne achieving average cuts of 20 per cent but don't be surprised if he still trumps lower-than-expected cuts in defence, education and other areas.

As for Labour, we'll learn more about their defict strategy - likely to involve something close to a 50:50 split between spending cuts and tax rises - when Alan Johnson gives his first speech as shadow chancellor in the City at around 11am today. Check back for more analysis and reaction soon after he does.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.