Ireland imposes strict new limits on spending of debtors

€247.04 a month for food.

Ireland is imposing punishing new requirements on people applying for debt write downs, according to the Financial Times:

A single person will be allowed just €247.04 a month for food, €57.31 for heating and €125.97 for “social inclusion and participation”, an expenses category that includes tickets for sporting events and the cinema.

The allowances rise for someone with children, or without access to public transport: according to the Irish Times, each child of primary school age adds another €204.88, while €131 is allowed for a car if there's no other alternative.

The move is the first attempt to quantify acceptable living standards in the country, following the spate of bankruptcies caused by the financial crisis. The guidelines are also expected to be used by banks as they begin restructuring home loans shortly – in Ireland, unlike the UK, mortgages are included in insolvency laws, in an effort to prevent banks from simply foreclosing on debtors.

English insolvency laws are less restrictive than Ireland's, requiring only that the bankrupt person be left enough cash for "reasonable" expenses. As the FT reports, past cases have found that holidays, mobile phones and video rentals are covered by that, but gym memberships, private healthcare, gambling, cigarettes and alcohol aren't.

The imposition of cash limits could be a step up for welfare, if recipients are free to ignore the categories which they're calculated for. One of the worst things about the sort of moralistic reasoning which the British laws embody – and which are mirrored in the arguments for food stamps – is that it prevents people from making their own decisions about what "necessities" are for them. If I'd rather spend £500 on gym memberships than £1000 on a mobile phone bill, then I'm better off if I'm allowed to do that, and so's the state.

Of course, the Irish limits aren't that flexible – and nor are they that high. So for the time being, you're probably better off bankrupt in Britain. Put that on the tourist posters…

Food stamps. 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
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.