Chancellor’s spending plans are toxic

Another Spending Review, yet more bad news for public services, the people who work in them and benefit claimants. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This is a toxic mix of bad economics, nasty politics and dishonest presentation.

‘The last thing our struggling economy needs is further cuts to spending to try to close a deficit made worse by the Chancellor’s earlier cuts. When the medicine is not working and side effects are choking the patient you need a change in treatment not more of the same.

‘Many services will be hard hit. Worst of all is a new attack on some of the most vulnerable in our society through the seven day wait and other conditions for social security payments. The Chancellor may think attacks on welfare go down well with voters, but these will lead to parents not having enough cash to feed their children.

‘And for all the talk of new investment, the truth is that the overall capital spend in 2015 will be exactly the same as the Chancellor forecast in his Budget earlier this year.’

Public service pay and jobs squeeze goes on

The Chancellor announced ‘further reductions in the number of people working in the public sector’ – a cut of 144,000 jobs. Looking at the small print of the OBR’s March 2013 report (p79), this appears to be a confirmation of the OBR projection made back at the time of the Budget. So, as they predicted, an average of 36,000 public service jobs a quarter (395 a day) will still be being cut in 2015-16 as a result of government policies, on track with their estimate of a total of 1 million job cuts from the beginning of 2011 to the start of 2018.

He also confirmed another Budget announcement, that there would be a further year’s 1 per cent cap on pay increases in the public sector, following the two or three year 1 per cent cap and two or three year freeze (depending on where you work). What this means in practice, of course, is living standards falling further and further as real terms pay cuts bite. TUC research published earlier this week showed the impact this had had on households, pushing 180,000 children with a parent in the public sector into poverty.

Seven days wait for family and housing benefits for unemployed claimants

Full information on what the new ‘seven day waiting period’ for unemployed claimants will mean is not yet available. But from what’s available so far it doesn’t look good for people who lose their jobs, or their families. The CSR policy costings document specifies that the policy will:

Introduce seven waiting days in Universal Credit for new claimants that have not had a Universal Credit claim in the past six months, where at least one person in the household is subject to conditionality. This costing assumes a 2015-16 start date for the measure.

The measure is forecast to save around £250 million a year, and is calculated on the basis that:

From April 2015 new awards of Universal Credit in each month for claimants who would be subject to conditionality are reduced by the average amount of Universal Credit claimed per claimant per week.

UC claimants ‘who will be subject to conditionality’ includes a very large group of claimants currently on Jobseeker’s Allowance and could even be taken to mean that those on Income Support (a benefit claimed primarily by lone parents with very young children), or those subject to the benefit cap, are included. Today’s announcement that lone parents will have to start preparing for work once their children are three underlines this point. People in these groups face conditions, just not to actively apply for jobs. More details on which conditionality regime this new policy will apply to is needed before we can rule certain groups out of this new process. We do know that at least those claiming Employment and Support Allowance and contributory JSA will not be affected.

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It is also not just unemployed claimants who are affected, those ‘not earning as much as the government expects them to’ will also see their income fall. This means people earning less than the NMW at 35 hours a week (or whatever their specific rule is – requirements will be less for those who are only required to seek part-time work). Households who are working, but see their income fall, will now have to wait a week to claim UC even if they remain in work with reduced hours during this period.

But the most worrying point is that Universal Credit will bring together all cash benefits into a single payment – so a delay in UC can also mean a delay in benefits currently classified as child and working tax credits, housing benefit, council tax benefits and many more. This policy sounds as if it will do far more than simply affect access to £71.70 of JSA for unemployed claimants (hard as that would be by itself) – it looks as if it is also their rent, their bills and their children’s food costs which won’t be met.

The Macroeconomics of the CSR

James Plunkett, director of policy and development at the Resolution Foundation, stated the £11.5bn of cuts for 2015/16 have been pencilled in for sometime and today was more about getting the detail than the direction of travel. James also noted:

The Chancellor needs a further £13bn in both 2016-17 and 2017-18 on top of today’s cuts in order to meet his deficit targets.

In other words, under the current fiscal framework, there is a lot more pain to come.

So the bigger questions today should be about that fiscal framework. It has utterly failed. The triple A rating has been lost, austerity has been extended from 4 years to at least 8, debt/GDP will still be rising at the end of this Parliament and the fiscal rules have either been broken (falling debt/GDP) or proved meaningless (the rolling structural deficit target).

Sources:

Public service pay and jobs squeeze goes onAlice HoodTouchstone Blog Copyright © 2013 Trades Union Congress

Seven days wait for family and housing benefits for unemployed claimantsNicola SmithTouchstone Blog Copyright © 2013 Trades Union Congress

The Macroeconomics of the CSR
Duncan WeldonTouchstone Blog Copyright © 2013 Trades Union Congress

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