IAIN WRIGHT: Incompetent Budget from callous Chancellor
It was the Budget last week. Budgets are very rarely remembered '“ they tend to fade from memory or get confused from one to another.
The Budget by George Osborne last Wednesday is unusual in that it probably will be remembered, although for all the reasons the Chancellor wishes it wasn’t: accusations of incompetence, failure to hit his own economic targets, callousness over his treatment of the disabled and the working poor and the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
Any chancellor has to wrestle with different choices. Helping one group of people will often mean penalising another. How decisions are made is very revealing and gives a clue as to the priorities and values of the Government.
It is therefore very telling that Iain Duncan Smith, in his resignation letter to David Cameron, said that George Osborne made decisions on things like tax credits and cuts to the disabled based upon political interests rather than the country’s economic interests.
This is not a proper and considered way in which the nation’s public finances can be improved – this is about penalising people of tax credits and employment support allowance because – frankly – these people don’t vote for the Tory Party.
This is not my assessment, but that of a senior Cabinet Minister who has sat at the heart of decision making for the past six years.
By his own tests, the Chancellor has failed.
He promised to balance the books by 2015 – that won’t be achieved until 2020, and even then - it would only be achieved by some clever creative accounting tweaks.
He promised that government debt would fall as a proportion of the size of the British economy: he is set to fail that, too, because he will have to borrow £38 billion more than he intended to in November.
And business investment, the engine which will drive forward improved efficiency, greater production and output, higher economic growth and rising living standards, has been sharply cut from only four months ago.
At the same time as cutting support for disabled people, George Osborne cut taxes for the wealthiest.
He cut capital gains tax which not only benefits the wealthiest in the country, but also is bad for long-term business performance, as it encourages investors to sell out early rather than grow and scale up a business.
His planned cuts to disability benefits would have affected about 1,700 people in Hartlepool, and would have meant those people losing an average of £3,500 a year.
In a sharp and shambolic U-turn, the Prime Minister and Chancellor had to change plans and declare that these cuts wouldn’t go ahead.
This still does mean, however, that there is now a big hole in the Chancellor’s budget of £4.4billion and he hasn’t said how it will be filled.
That still means that he comes again to cut the help given to the disabled and most vulnerable in society.
In all, a pretty definitively weak and incompetent Budget from the Chancellor which has all but ended his chances of succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister and which, more importantly, revealed how the Government disregards the needs of the most vulnerable in our country.