How Duncan Smith misled MPs on child poverty

The Work and Pensions Secretary claimed that "child poverty rose" under Labour; it fell by 800,000.

Iain Duncan Smith has acquired a reputation for playing fast and loose with the facts and he was up to his tricks again at Work and Pensions Questions in the Commons this afternoon. Towards the end of the session, he declared that "child poverty rose" under the last government. But as so often, the data tells a different story. Under Labour, child poverty fell from 3.4m in 1997 to 2.6m in 2010, a net reduction of 800,000 and the lowest figure since the mid-1980s.

While child poverty has fallen under the coalition to 2.3m (largely due to the overall drop in average household incomes, which resulted in a relatively higher poverty threshold), it is projected to rise by 600,000 by 2015-16 as the government's welfare cuts take full effect. As the IFS has noted, "Despite the impact of universal credit, the overall impact of reforms introduced since April 2010 is to increase the level of income poverty in each and every year from 2010 to 2020." The forecast rise will reverse all of the reductions that took place under Labour between 2000-01 and 2010-11. Rather than slandering the last government, Duncan Smith would do well to turn his attention to that.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.