MPC prepared to overlook "period of above-target inflation"

Bank of England dashes hopes of the inflation hawks.

The Bank of England's monthly inflation report confirms that its Monetary Policy Committee is heeding the advice of incoming governor Mark Carney and accepting an "overshoot" of inflation.

Speaking to MPs last week, Carney had confirmed he favoured a flexible inflation target. While he isn't convinced scrapping the target entirely "is a risk worth taking", he stated that he accepts the need for a bit of lee-way on the price target while growth is still below trend.

Today's report from the MPC backs up that argument. The Bank writes:

As long as domestic cost and price pressures remained consistent with inflation returning to the target in the medium term, it was appropriate to look through the temporary, albeit protracted, period of above-target inflation.

Attempting to bring inflation back to the target sooner by removing the current policy stimulus more quickly than currently anticipated by financial markets would risk derailing the recovery and undershooting the inflation target in the medium term.

The MPC’s remit is to deliver price stability, but to do so in a way that avoids undesirable volatility in output.

The key reason for the bank's decision is that it doesn't see GDP increasing quick enough, soon enough, to clamp down on inflation in a way which may damage growth. It predicts GDP returning to positive annual increases, but only reaching 2 per cent annual growth — the barest which could be described as acceptable — in the second quarter of 2014. It also sees a high possibility, although still below 50 per cent, of a contraction in the second quarter of 2013:

As a result, the loosening of the inflation target sans that the bank now doesn't see the rate returning to its two per cent target until 2015:

The news sent the pound down against all major currencies:

But the greater tolerance of inflation only goes so far. The MPC gave no indication that it was inclined to increase quantitative easing, typically seen as a trade-off between growth and inflation in a demand-constrained economy. Whether that means the MPC thinks demand is no longer constrained, or whether its tolerance has limits, remains unclear.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.