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How Cameron got his facts wrong on workless families

The PM claims that the number of workless families "doubled" under Labour, but the figures show it fell.

David Cameron's response in today's Telegraph to the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who rightly warned at the weekend that the coalition's benefit cuts had left many in "hunger and destitution", includes the remarkable statistic that "the number of workless households doubled" under Labour. Unfortunately for the PM, it simply isn't true. 

As data from the ONS shows, the number of workless households (defined as a household where no one aged over 16 is in employment) rose from 3.7 million in 1997 to 3.9 million in 2010 (having fallen to 3.5 million before the crash), not 7.4 million as Cameron's claim would suggest. As a percentage, the number actually fell from 19.8 per cent to 19.2 per cent. 

What Cameron most likely meant to say is that the number of households that had never worked nearly doubled from 136,000 in 1997 to 269,000 in 2010. Regardless, he should now issue a correction. 

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.