Politics for the next five years will be dominated by painful public spending cuts. But in this election every time a politician speaks, it seem to be in order to protect one more benefit perk. So far, in terms of new spending guarantees vs new cuts, the campaign score is at least £25bn to 0.
Take the appearance of Liam Byrne and Philip Hammond on Newsnight last night, which turned into the most expensive interview of their political careers. Without blinking, the two would-be guardians of the public purse ruled out means testing child benefit.
Price tag? Around £5bn to ensure millionaires (in fact anyone family earning more than £25,000) can still pick up their benefit perk. That’s roughly the size of the defence equipment budget.
Any cuts to match that? Of course not. If you try our Deficit Buster online tool, you’ll see that means testing child benefit is one of the easiest of a horrible set of choices. The public surely deserve to know where the Tories and Labour will find that £5bn.
On top of child benefit, since the election began Labour and the Tories have both offered £20bn plus of guarantees to the over 60s. It is politically important to reassure people that their free bus passes, TV licences, eye-tests, attendance allowance, pension credit, and winter fuel payments are safe. But if the elderly and child benefit recipients won’t help to pay down the deficit, who will?
** Just for the record, here is Hammond’s pledge. “We have made a decision to rule out means testing child benefit,” Hammond said. “The universality of child benefit is really important to people, it reassures them about the availability of that benefit.” Jim, a lucky father of one, is banking that.