Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Mid Staffs report is right: NHS targets went too far (Guardian)

Without being knee-jerk or top-down, Labour must learn lessons from the failings at Stafford hospital, says Andy Burnham.

2. US must do more than focus on deficit (Financial Times)

A broader, growth-centred agenda is needed to propel the economy, says Lawrence Summers.

3. What a tragedy that we couldn't stop the war in Iraq despite marching in our thousands (Independent)

Forget the expenses scandal: it was Iraq that exploded what trust millions had in our political establishment, says Owen Jones. But the real anguish lies elsewhere.

4. Tories must keep talking about family values (Times

Ructions over gay marriage are no excuse for retreat, says Tim Montgomerie. Update social conservatism, don’t abandon it.

5. Barack Obama is pushing gun control at home, but he's a killer abroad (Guardian)

President Obama's appeals to respect human life in the US are at odds with his backing for drone strikes in foreign parts, writes Gary Younge.

6. This still won't pay the bills for elderly care (Independent)

It has to be asked whether ministers have not taken the coward's way out, says an Independent editorial.

7. Care, inheritance and penalising the thrifty (Daily Mail)

Not only has George Osborne held the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000 since the election, he now reportedly wants it frozen for another five years, notes a Daily Mail editorial.

It’s all down to taboo, mankind’s way of defining ourselves and avoiding chaos, writes Boris Johnson.

9. Cut off NHS head to save the patient (Sun)

Since NHS head David Nicholson refuses to do the decent thing, the Prime Minister must do it for him, says Trevor Kavanagh.

10. Scotland: Britain's real referendum (Guardian)

Bit by bit the arguments and terrain for the 2014 referendum vote are taking sharper shape, says a Guardian editorial.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.