Osborne’s Budget provides few reasons to be cheerful

Growth revised down. Unemployment, borrowing and inflation revised up.

Unless you're Jeremy Clarkson, it's hard to see the bright spot in today's Budget. The Office for Budget Responsibility now predicts lower growth, higher inflation, higher unemployment and a slower pace of deficit reduction than it did in June. Every significant economic indicator is going in the wrong direction.

Growth for 2011 has been revised down from 2.1 per cent to 1.7 per cent and growth for 2012 has been downgraded from 2.6 per cent to 2.5 per cent. Public-sector borrowing is now forecast to be £44.5bn higher across this parliament. And, as Will Straw points out, the OBR now predicts that unemployment will be higher than expected every year from now, starting with an increase of 40,000 in 2011 and another rise of 130,000 in 2012.

As expected, George Osborne announced that the personal allowance will be raised from £7,475 to more than £8,105 in April 2012. But this tax cut (worth £120 to all those earning less than £115,000) will be swallowed up by the coalition's "permanent" VAT rise, which will cost the average adult £310, and by the 1 per cent rise in National Insurance.

With an eye to the next quarterly growth figures, it's worth noting that the OBR is now predicting growth of 0.8 per cent for Q1 of this year. The forecasters were badly wrong last time, of course, but it looks like Osborne will avoid a double dip. Yet a recovery that was already set to be slower than those of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s will now be weaker still. The coalition's premature fiscal retrenchment has condemned Britain to years of anaemic growth.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.