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

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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