Budget 2013: The £10k personal allowance won’t reverse the impact of welfare cuts

The small benefits the lowest earners will see from today's tax allowance rise does little to compensate for the enormous hit they will take from cuts to benefits.

One of the key measures in today’s budget was an increase in the personal tax allowance, which will rise from £9,440 in to £10,000 in 2014/15. It was always an ambition of the Coalition to reach 10k before the next election, but they have revealed today that they will get there a year earlier. Taking people out of the tax system has an intuitive appeal if, like the Chancellor, you want to ‘set free the aspirations of the nation’. But what is the actual impact on household incomes?

The red bars in the chart below shows what the distributional impact of the change. While personal allowance rises are often presented as a measure benefitting those on the lowest incomes, in actual fact it is middle and higher earning households that gain the most. Indeed, the lowest earners will only gain 0.05 per cent of weekly incomes from the change. The biggest winners are those earning more than median earnings, who will see their weekly income rise by over than 0.2 per cent. The reason for this is simple – the lowest earning households are less likely to have incomes above the personal allowance anyway, so an increase has little or no effect on them. The highest earners, on the other hand, will often have two earners earning above the personal allowance, so they get the full benefit.

When compared to the impact of the 1% benefit up-rating cap announced in the Autumn Statement, the regressive nature of the coalition's tax and benefit policies is even starker. The red bars in the chart show the distributional change in household incomes as a result of the reforms announced last December. It is clear the small benefit the lowest earners will see as a result of today’s tax allowance rise does little to compensate for the enormous hit they will take because of real-terms cuts in child benefit, tax credits and a host of other working-age benefits.

The Chancellor wants to do something to help hard-working families, but some of the hardest-working families on low-incomes will see little benefit from today’s announcement on income tax, while at the same time bearing the brunt of the coalition’s cuts to welfare. Looking to the future, with the prospect of even more cuts to come, we have to ask whether it is fair for the poorest to shoulder so much of the burden.

A demonstrator wears a mask depicting George Osborne during a gathering by the Public and Commercial Services Union. Photograph: Getty Images.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.