I wrote this week about talks between the Tories and Lib Dems about the possibility of lowering the cap for how much workers can put into their pension pots while still enjoying tax relief.
Since then a couple of pensions experts have got in touch to explain some further implications of the measure, which mean that for two reasons, it could be more controversial than I first realised.
Firstly, I suggested that people enjoying the maximum 50% tax break enjoy a 50p top-up to their pension pot for every £1 they put in.
In fact, the relief is worth even more, because the amount is a tax relief calculated on pre-tax income. So if you qualify for the 50% relief, and put in £1, your tax is waived, meaning that the government has essentially put in 50p of the £1 you put it. Cancelling this for some people would therefore be even more of a blow than I first calculated.
The Liberal Democrats have a problem. They have staked their colours clearly to the mast when it comes to raising the minimum threshold for income tax to £10,000. Most expect it to be done by the end of the parliament, if not by 2014.
The problem is, this will cost money – £4bn if it’s done by 2015, £5.5bn if it’s done by 2014 – and there isn’t much of it floating around. Lib Dems will tell you they are keen on two options to pay for this: one is to clamp down on tax avoidance; the other is to tax the pension contributions made by higher earners.
Both options are likely to make some kind of appearance in the Budget in March. But it is the latter that raises the serious money, and carries potentially serious risks for the coalition. Read more
When George Osborne told the country last November that he was going to miss the target of eliminating the current structural deficit by 2015, Labour were quick to tell everyone how the chancellor’s economic gamble had failed.
Not only was Osborne having to borrow more to pay for this failure, the opposition claimed that he was even now having to borrow more than Alistair Darling would have done under his deficit reduction plan. That claim was illustrated by this graph, showing the course of borrowing under Darling’s 2010 plan and Osborne’s modified 2011 plan:
The FT reports this morning that payday lenders (or legal loan sharks as they are also known) have been flooding into the country looking to take advantage of hard-up recession-hit borrowers and the UK’s lax lending laws. Borrowing at rates of up to 5,000 per cent, customers can find their debts escalating at a startling pace.
Even though many other countries have interest rate caps, the UK has never gone down that route. The government has always said it is wary of implementing such a cap in case it pushes poor people into the hands of illegal loan sharks instead.
Labour MP Stella Creasy has also waged a long campaign to get the government to crack down on these companies, and now her campaign is gaining momentum. Read more
Welcome to the Westminster blog’s live coverage of chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement. One of the most eagerly anticipated statements since the coalition government took power was expected to offer a gloomy prognosis on the economy. Michael Hunter and Gordon Smith from the FT main newsdesk covered the statement live from 12.30 with additional comment from FT colleagues.
14.10 Thanks for joining us. You can find much more, including the full text of the chancellor’s speech and comprehensive analysis, including video interviews, at www.ft.com/autumn2011. Read more
Unless there is a last minute U-turn in Whitehall tonight, one of the ways which George Osborne will pay for the various jobs and infrastructure schemes in Tuesday’s growth review will be to squeeze tax credits.
This is a result of protracted bargaining – Osborne wanted to freeze benefits, but the combined efforts of the Lib Dems and Iain Duncan Smith put a stop to that. Eventually the compromise was made that credits would come under the axeman’s blade instead.
So who suffers if these are frozen or cut? Read more
It was an intriguing PMQs today. As I have previously noted, Ed Miliband has begun to find his feet on the economy, and once again used this as his main attack line.
As he has done at previous sessions he chose an obscure policy that has achieved little so far (this time the “business growth fund”, which was set up using money from the Merlin agreement), and used it to embarrass the PM.
As has happened before, Cameron didn’t know what the policy was (in fact at the end, he started talking about the Regional Growth Fund – a different fund altogether). So when asked how many businesses the fund had invested in, he was unable to answer. Read more
Here’s a sentence to set alarm bells ringing: the Department for Work and Pensions is currently undertaking a rather large and important IT project to change the way people can claim benefits.
As part of the project to roll up all the various benefits and tax credits people receive into one “Universal Credit”, DWP is creating a new system that would allow people to log in online, fill in some basic details and quickly calculate how much they can claim. The money will then be paid automatically into their bank account. Read more
Is George Osborne planning to scrap the 50p income tax rate? Yes.
But not today, nor tomorrow. Not this month, or next. Not even before Christmas. The move may not even take place next year.
The rate – which applies to those earning £150,000 – has always been classified as “temporary” by the coalition.
In recent weeks the Tories and Lib Dems have played up their differences over the issue. In fact neither think the 50p rate should be removed just now; the internal debate is whether to go for 2012 or 2013.
Danny Alexander insisted last Sunday that scrapping the rate was not a priority – and that lifting the income tax threshold to £10,000 should come first. Tory outriders such as Boris Johnson and Lord Lamont called for it to be axed; but even Lamont said this should happen in 2013. Johnson, meanwhile, is unfettered by the responsibilities of national coalition government. Read more
And now for the big story of the day…
A row has been rumbling since the beginning of the year between cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Eric Pickles about $4.8bn worth of benefits.
To recap: Last year’s spending review decided the government should localise council tax rebates, giving councils the right to cut rebates for poorer residents and use the money instead on tax cuts or service provision. But that could lead some low-earners paying an effective tax rate of 90 per cent, something IDS worries will undermine the incentive to work that he is trying to create through the single universal credit. IDS wants instead to roll council tax benefits into the universal credit so it reflects claimants’ earning status. Read more
The 50p rate – dubbed the “banker tax” – was always going to be a blunderbuss of a weapon with which to punish the guilty men of the UK’s financial services community. But who is it really going to affect? Read more