George Osborne will deliver his final budget of the current Parliament on Wednesday and – if it proves to be the last he ever gives – it won’t be a moment too soon.
Ever since his ’emergency’ budget of 2010, which ended the economic growth created by Labour’s Alistair Darling and ushered in three years of economic flatlining, we have had to endure an unending stream of nonsense from this chancer-among-chancellors, this most mini-among-ministers, this least-treasured Treasurer.
Today we heard that he is again attempting to bribe pensioners into voting Conservative, with a plan that encourages them to take out their defined contribution pension annuities for a lump sum – which, it seems likely, will then be used up in short order, leaving the pensioner to fall on the mercy of the state.
It seems to be more short-termism – getting senior citizens to spend, in order to create a minor boost to economic activity now, while storing up problems for the future.
Osborne says no, and told the BBC that it was “patronising” to suggest people might blow the money on an expensive sports car, then come back for more when they ran out of cash.
This is from the Chancellor who, prior to the financial crash, told Gordon Brown repeatedly that bankers could be trusted to run their businesses unregulated; and who, once in government, based his entire economic strategy on a theory that has since been comprehensively trashed.
The Guardian has listed a few more claims that Osborne might make in his Budget speech, along with the counter-arguments. We shan’t bother with the arguments in support of him here – let’s skip to the good parts. Here are the claims – and their debunkings:
The Government’s plan is working – Deficit reduction has been much slower than Osborne forecast five years ago. In his first budget, in June 2010, the chancellor predicted that he would need to borrow £37bn in 2014-5 and that tax receipts would cover day-to-day government spending. The actual figure will be almost three times that, and, when adjusted for the state of the economy, the 2015 budget deficit is expected to be higher than any other EU country barring Croatia, according to Investec.
Britain has the fastest-growing economy in the G7 – Osborne’s account of his stewardship is partial and misleading. It ignores the first two years, in each of which austerity measures knocked one percentage point off growth, resulting in a flatlining economy. Britain’s recovery from the 2008-09 slump has been the weakest of any in the past 100 years, slower even than the bounce back from the Great Depression of the 1930s. Real wages have at last started to rise as a result of falling inflation, but incomes per head are on average the same now as they were in 2006, before the financial crisis. Business investment has fallen for the past two quarters, and the current account deficit is higher than ever, at 6% of GDP.
We are helping hard- working people by raising tax allowances – Raising the personal allowance is not a well-targeted way of helping the low paid because it helps earners further up the income scale as well. Britain’s low-pay culture means millions of workers don’t earn anything like £10,600 a year. As a result, Osborne is thought to be toying with the idea of raising the threshold for employee national insurance contributions, which is effectively another form of income tax but kicks in at a lower level.
We will ease back on austerity while sticking to our deficit-cutting target – Even after a trim, Osborne’s cuts programme will still look drastic. Labour will argue that he is taking too much of a risk with economic growth and jeopardising essential public services.
We will launch a new crackdown on tax evasion – This is too little, too late, and many of the perks that help the super-rich avoid tax – including non-domiciled tax status – remain in place. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are under fire for appointing former HSBC chairman Stephen Green as a trade minister, apparently without checking his possible involvement.
Feel free to copy out the above and check it against Osborne’s speech on Wednesday.
One thing is certain – it will contain nothing that should persuade you to vote Conservative in May.
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