Ignore the headlines – George Osborne still defends cutting Britain to the bone

“We did get things wrong,” the former Chancellor admitted on Newsnight. But not – according to him – regarding welfare.


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In an interview with Newsnight, the country was given a rare glimpse of the former Chancellor’s thoughts on his regime leading to Brexit, and how he feels his austerity policy fared.

The headlines from it all suggest thoughtful contrition: “George Osborne: We got things wrong”, “George Osborne ‘regrets’ mistakes”, etc etc.

But no. What was really striking wasn’t the Evening Standard editor’s mild reassessment of his government’s EU referendum miscalculation. It was his utterly wrongheaded defence of austerity.

Osborne’s welfare cut pledge of £12bn that so burdened claimants – plus the Tory government’s own ministers when the party won a surprise majority in the 2015 election – was the cruellest blow of austerity; something low-income households (plus the current Prime Minister and Chancellor’s reputations) are still suffering from today.

His defence? “I took the judgment that if you were going to deal with the fact the country was spending too much, it would be a bit odd to leave out the very large chunk the government was spending on welfare.”

Bit odd then that those cuts didn’t extend to the biggest proportion of the welfare budget – state pensions – then, eh? Or that pensioner benefits were left untouched?

Defending his economic record, Osborne said “ultimately the country grew, jobs were created, and it avoided the calamitous situation that quite a lot of European countries found themselves in”.

Did it really though, George? Growth in the first six months of 2018 was slower when compared with the same time period in every year since 2011. In the first three months of this year, the UK was one of the slowest growing economies in the G7.

As for jobs, employment figures disguise the increasingly precarious nature of work for British people. Last November, the number of people who did not have enough work, were on temporary or zero-hours contracts, and who were classed as “self-employed” but actually only working for one employer still remained higher than before the 2008 crash.

Regarding the “calamitous situation” faced by other European countries, the UK – hurtling towards an unknown Brexit, and a potential long recession – can hardly escape that description.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.