Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Monday will be the day that defines this government (Guardian)

Those on low incomes, after all the vicious talk dismissing them as cheats and idlers, will be hit by an avalanche of cuts, writes Polly Toynbee.

2. Even now, after all that's happened to Cyprus, they’re queuing up to join the euro (Daily Telegraph)

It defies belief that Poland and others are still keen on joining the economic doomsday machine of the single currency, says Jeremy Warner.

3. Abu Qatada: the law won (Guardian)

The judges who ruled against the Home Office aren't woolly liberals, says Conor Gearty. They're just doing their job.

4. Let schools make money and we will all profit (Times)

Turn teachers into entrepreneurs and we will get the cash for the places we so badly need, says Philip Collins.

5. It’s the cold, not global warming, that we should be worried about (Daily Telegraph)

No one seems upset that in modern Britain, old people are freezing to death as hidden taxes make fuel more expensive, writes Fraser Nelson.

6. Burma in 2013 reminds me of Yugoslavia in 1991 (Independent)

Nobody thought civil war could break out then - and the same view holds strong in Burma now, writes Peter Popham. But violence this week may not be the end of it.

7. Britain can’t afford this level of immigration (Daily Telegraph)

The coalition is making headway in tackling large-scale immigration, but it needs to do far more, argue Frank Field and Nicholas Soames.

8. Cameron must listen to the Tory grassroots to stay on top (Daily Mail)

The Prime Minister's decision to appoint right-winger John Hayes to the Cabinet Office is an encouraging one, says a Daily Mail leader.

9. Europe risks going too far on moral hazard (Financial Times)

Systemic risk now poses a greater threat to lenders, says Nicolas Véron.

10. Another tug at Britain’s unravelling energy plan (Independent)

Three energy ministers in only seven months does not inspire investor confidence, says an Independent 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.