Just one thing: cut national insurance

IPPR tells George Osborne what it wants to hear in the 2012 Budget.

IPPR tells George Osborne what it wants to hear in the 2012 Budget.

If George Osborne does one thing, he should cut employees' national insurance contributions by 2 per cent for the next two years.

Barack Obama implemented a similar payroll tax cut in the United States in 2010 and it has subsequently been extended - with support from Republicans and Democrats - until the end of 2012. The results are startling. While consumer spending in the UK shrank by 0.8 per cent in 2011, it increased by 2.2 per cent in the US. As a result US GDP increased by 1.7 per cent, more than double the puny 0.8 per cent gain in the UK.

The UK does not face a debt crisis; it faces a demand crisis that is the result of public spending cuts, cautious businesses and squeezed consumers. The economy will only grow again when demand picks up and that will only happen when consumer spending accelerates. Lower inflation during 2012 should mean this year is a little better than 2011 in this respect, unless there is a further sharp increase in the oil price. But a 2 per cent cut in national insurance contributions would help secure a better outcome.

Crucially, the prospect of stronger consumer demand would also provide a fillip to businesses. Large businesses in particular are sitting on huge piles of cash which they are unwilling to spend - either on new business investment or on hiring more workers - because the demand outlook is poor. A cut in National Insurance contributions would help to turn sentiment more positive.

If the Chancellor is worried that the cost of cutting National Insurance contributions - around £7 billion a year before taking account of the extra revenues that would be generated as a result of stronger growth - would spook investors in the UK bond market, he could recoup most of the cost over a six-year period by introducing the Liberal Democrat's mansion tax.

Tony Dolphin is the Chief Economist at the Institute of Public Policy Research

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Tony Dolphin is chief economist at IPPR

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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.