What's in the box? Bad news for women, mainly. Photo: Getty Images
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Once again, the biggest losers from George Osborne's budget are women

Labour needs to have the strength to stand for a better approach – for a stronger economy with sustainable public finances and a fairer, less divided country.


A Budget that betrays working parents - that's what we've had from George Osborne today. 

Families with kids are going to be really hard hit by the Tories plans. Women are going to be hit more than twice as hard as men - by a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who clearly don't give a damn about working parents’ lives.

Many families are going to be thousands of pounds worse off as a result of the £4.5bn cuts to tax credits alone, with over 3million families affected. That's even before you include real cuts in the value of child benefit for the next four years. 

If you're on average pay with two children, you'll lose £2,000 in tax credit cuts next year. 

I'm glad the Tories have finally given in to our calls for a big increase in the minimum wage, but it’s not enough to compensate parents for the tax credits they are cutting. And they certainly shouldn't call it a Living Wage because it still falls short of that.

A single mum with two children working part time on the National Minimum wage will gain just over £400 from higher pay but lose £860 from lower tax credits in 2016/17.

A couple with two kids both working full time on the minimum wage will still be £700 a year worse off. And if you're currently paid more than the minimum wage, you'll be harder hit. 

Plus they are actually discouraging parents from working harder. Earn an extra pound or two and they'll claw half of it back from your tax credits. 

Remember how they said a 50 per cent tax was a disincentive for the highest paid people in the country? Yet they are quite happy to do it for the poorest paid. 

So much for George Osborne's promise to help working people. Do parents just not count as working people? Is this the "lifestyle" George Osborne claimed he didn't want to fund?

And remember David Cameron's pre-election pledge that child tax credit is “not going to fall." It was a lie. This is a shameful betrayal of parents working hard to support their kids and get on in life. In the 21st century working parents shouldn't have to go to food banks to put a hot meal on the table, as too many families now do.

But tax credit cuts aren't the only assault on working parents. The Government is saving £370m from delaying childcare plans - despite having made grand promises before the election about nursery places and tax relief. We warned at the time that their plans weren't funded - so it has proved.

Whilst George Osborne made much in his speech of promising Britain a pay rise, he also slipped in five more years of a 1% cap on public sector pay – below inflation, even though services like the NHS are already facing a serious and growing recruitment and retention problem.

And the research I commissioned today from the House of Commons Library shows that women are being hit over twice as hard as men by the Chancellor’s plans. Of the £34bn net extra money being raised from households over the next five years (taking account of the increases in tax allowances as well as cuts to tax credits and all the changes to benefits), £24bn is coming from women – even though women still earn less than men. David Cameron and George Osborne still have a serious women problem – they just don’t get the impact of their plans on women’s lives. 

Of course the deficit and the debt need to come down. Of course Labour would have had to make tough decisions to get back into surplus. That is why I identified £800m in savings in the home office budget whilst protecting frontline policing- from things like abolishing Police and Crime Commissioners. But it is also why I think George Osborne’s plan to cut inheritance tax now for some of the richest estates is the wrong priority. 

Because there is an alternative to George Osborne’s plans. The Tories approach isn't fair, and isn't good for our economy and our country in the long term. 

At the same time as hitting Britain's families, the Tories are failing to deliver the balanced growth and high paid jobs we need for the future - that also helps bring the deficit down. 

Growth has been revised down this year. So have exports. And so has productivity. That means we're not getting the high skilled jobs our country needs. We need a national mission to almost double R&D investment in our economy to match the 3% of GDP our competitors invest and there were no measures in today’s budget to do that. 

The Chancellor talks about one nation – but he doesn’t think parents are part of that one nation. He talks about a long term plan but he is happy for stagnant growth with weak exports and low productivity to drag our debt up and our economy down.

Labour needs to have the strength to stand for a better approach – for a stronger economy with sustainable public finances and a fairer, less divided country: the two things go hand in hand.

Yvette Cooper was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2009 to 2010, and is chair of the Changing Work Centre, set-up by the Fabian Society and Community Union.

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What’s the secret of the world’s best-paid sports manager? Ask the Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein is a star because he values the person as much as the player.

As I write, the Chicago Cubs, perennial underachievers, are three wins away from reaching baseball’s World Series for the first time since 1945. By the time you read this they may have crashed out. Besides, baseball – like cricket – is a language that asks a lot of its translators. So, in writing about the Cubs, I’ll skip the baseball bits. Fortunately, the lessons of the Cubs’ success (they were the outstanding team of 2016, even if they don’t win the World Series) transcend baseball.

To understand the future of sport – and perhaps employment – I recommend a pair of profiles of Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, one published in the New York Times and the other written by David Axelrod (Barack Obama’s strategist) for the New Yorker.

Epstein, 42, has just agreed a contract extension worth $50m over five years, making him the highest-paid non-player in professional sport. There is plenty in the profiles on his whizzy use of data analytics; his algorithmic tests that measure players’ co-ordination (essentially using neuroscience to measure talent); as well as the Cubs’ coaching programme dedicated to mental health and managing stress. Most timely and important of all is Epstein’s emphasis on character. He talks about “scouting the person more than the player”. He wants the right kind of people on the field.

“In the draft room [where the team decides which players to sign], we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player,” he has said. “We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Epstein is well known for empowering a “geek department” inside his baseball teams. Yet instead of perceiving a conflict between science and the human realm, he sees the two as part of the same big picture. He craves players with character who can benefit from the insights of science.

“Character” is a vexed subject inside sport. It sets off uncomfortable associations. Talking too much about character – building it, or even just valuing it – sounds dangerously close to endorsing an amateur ethos. Victorian public schools often celebrated sport explicitly in opposition to intelligence, even achievement. H H Almond, the headmaster of Loretto from 1862, got an A for candour (if nothing else) when he ranked his school’s priorities: “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence.”

The Victorian notion of games cast a long shadow over sport and society in the 20th century. The first phase of ultra-professionalism, in the office as well as on the sports field, was a reaction to Almond’s set of values. The concept of character was recast as a consolation prize, doled out to the class dunce or the twelfth man. Crucially, reformers and nostalgics alike bought in to the historical perception of a separation or conflict between character, intellectual life and sporting achievement.

The Cubs, however, know better. To adapt Almond’s clumsy saying: intelligence and physical skills derive, significantly though not entirely, from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

This is an overdue reassessment. In the loosest terms, I would identify three phases in the development of professional sport. Phase one optimised the body. Sadly, though we are still inching forward, the human body is now reaching the outer wall of virtuosity. All sports will tail off in speed of progress, in terms of pure physicality.

Phase two of modern sport turned to psychology. Realising how hard it is to gain an edge through physical conditioning, everyone suddenly started talking about the mind: the inner game of this, the mental game of that. However, reconfiguring the mental approach of elite athletes – already in their twenties and thirties, with deeply ingrained habits and highly evolved psychological software – is also exceptionally difficult. That is why many top athletes recoil from conventional “sports psychology”; the discipline is oversold and under-sceptical.

We are now entering phase three: the whole person. Sustained high achievement relies on something much deeper than a few sessions with a sports psychologist. So you need the right people in the room.

Coaches in future will be numerate and intellectually unthreatened by the scientific advances that illuminate sport. But the best coaches will never lose sight of a parallel truth: that although science can help us to understand what happens on the sports field, and sometimes how to do it better, it cannot conveniently convert athletes into inert particles, as though it were a ­physical science. Coaching can benefit from ­science but remains an art – one that revolves around understanding and helping people.

In most sports, players and coaches are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team, as Pep Guardiola says, makes more good decisions. Sport, in other words, advances when it trains people to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and imperfectible. If you want machines, you get dummies.

This month, I was asked to found a new institute of advanced sports studies at the University of Buckingham. The mission is to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses that attend to the entire mindset – critical thinking, ethics and leadership, as well as data analytics and sports science: a kind of “PPE of sport”. After a misleading triple fissure – character, body, mind – sport is starting to put the pieces back together again. That’s why, this month, I’m rooting for Epstein’s Cubs.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood