Mark Hoban, the employment minister, has just suffered a bit of a torrid press conference with the assorted ranks of the British press after the Department for Work and Pensions admitted its £5bn back-to-work scheme has fallen well short of its own targets.
The government’s figures show the scheme had found sustained employment (six months for most, three months for those most difficult to help) for just 2.3 per cent of people. The department had set a minimum performance level for itself of 5.5 per cent.
Why is it failing? There are many reasons, but here are the main ones:
1) The economy is worse than expected. The original assumptions built into the scheme were that the UK economy would be growing at 2 per cent. Of course, it is not, which means there are fewer jobs around to be had.
2) The targets were too high. As a way of getting the Treasury to cough up the cash needed for the scheme, the department for work and pensions set very aggressive targets for providers. This has been a concern right from the start of the scheme, as the FT’s former public policy editor, wrote last year. Read more
This blog revealed back in March just before the Budget that George Osborne was considering capping child benefit at a certain number of children per family. At the moment, parents receive £20.30 a week for their first child and £13.40 for each additional child after that, but Treasury officials were looking at stopping those payments once a family had reached a certain number of children.
At the time, the measure was supposed to be an alternative to capping child benefit at a certain income level: the family-size measure would have been easier to implement and involve less of a cliff-edge for
people increasing their earnings. In the end, it was ruled out as too controversial, but judging by George Osborne’s speech at the Tory party conference today, the idea is back on the table. The chancellor said:
How can we justify a system where people in work have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don’t?
Vince Cable’s speech to Lib Dem conference was just about on-message as regard to the coalition’s economic strategy. We need the state, he said; we need a demand stimulus, he said; we are taking advantage of low interest rates and borrowing more, he said. But he didn’t quite call for more borrowing for an immediate fiscal boost.
In fact, any Lib Dem wanting to call for a departure from George Osborne’s Plan A will now find it very difficult to do so after the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of the current fiscal plan.
This morning, delegates were asked to vote for a motion backing the “difficult decisions taken by the coalition government” and calling for the government to “do everything possible to stimulate growth within its fiscal mandate” (emphasis mine). Read more
This morning’s research from the IPPR lays out in thorough detail just how difficult George Osborne will find it to meet his fiscal rules when announcing his spending review for the period 2015-2017 next year.
The think tank has analysed the forecasts from the OBR and the Treasury and calculated the cuts needed to make sure the current structural deficit is cleared by the end of the five-year period and debt is falling as a ratio of GDP by 2015.
Firstly, let’s assume no cuts are made to welfare. If that is the case, the chancellor needs to make average savings of 3.8 per cent from departmental budgets. If spread equally among the departments, that would mean hugely controversial measures such as cutting the NHS budget by nearly £8bn a year and education by nearly £4bn.
Nick Clegg took many by surprise this morning by appearing in the Guardian calling for an emergency, temporary tax on wealth to help pay down the deficit. Why make the call publicly, when he’s a senior member of the government that decides whether this happens or not? And why now, so far away from Budget time?
The obvious answer is that this is not a thought-through policy proposal, but merely a bit of positioning to cheer the troops ahead of next month’s party conference. It will not happen, say many (including the BBC’s Nick Robinson), so there is no need to worry about what Clegg actually means.
But, that analysis ignores a couple of things. Read more
As I reported today, the Treasury is looking seriously into the idea of adopting German-style “mini jobs”, a scheme long championed by free market Conservative MPs. The model is that workers can earn up to €400, or £314, tax free each month, while their employers benefit from flexible labour with minimal bureaucracy: they pay a flat rate of wage taxes, insurance and pension contributions.
It is easy to see why companies and jobseekers might be clamouring for the government to pick this up, but there is actually a serious political case as well. Tories who were frustrated by the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to radical labour market reforms put forward by Adrian Beecroft have been calling for ministers to come forward with some new deregulation measures for some time.
The Lib Dems themselves are keen not to be seen as too obstructionist on this issue given the drive for growth, and party officials have assured me that they are not pushing back against the mini jobs idea. Could this be the middle way? Read more
As Jim wrote earlier on this blog, the Tories and Labour are trading accusations of hypocrisy over their response to the news that Barclays has been hit with a record fine for trying to manipulate key interest rates.
The Tories are accusing Labour of under-regulating the banks; Labour reply they were under pressure from the Tories to regulate even less. Both are right, and here are a couple of quotes both will use to score points off each other.
The first is from Lord Tunnicliffe, Labour’s deputy chief whip in the Lords, who admitted today that his party did not legislate to make such manipulation a criminal offence: Read more
It probably seemed like a great idea to David Cameron when he criticised Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs during a round of TV interview in Mexico. His comments – attacking the immorality of avoidance – chime with the public mood. People don’t like to find out that others aren’t paying as much tax at a time of austerity, unemployment, spending cuts and so on.
But the Cameron stance quickly unravelled within minutes of him uttering the words on Wednesday afternoon. First question was why the prime minister criticised a single comedian and not those closer to home (Sir Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft, etc) whose tax affairs have been questioned in the past.
Second question was why the PM attacked Carr but not Gary Barlow, the cuddly Take That singer who supported the Tories before the last election. Asked about Barlow on Wednesday, he said something vague about having not reached his computer yet. By today, it was a matter of no comment.
During a press conference today Cameron sought to shift into reverse gear, saying it was everybody’s right to arrange their tax affairs efficiently and that he wouldn’t provide a “running commentary” on individuals’ tax. Yet the genie is already out of the bottle. The spotlight will now be on members of Cameron’s family, his friends, his donors and his MPs; who else has been a little too efficient in Read more
Journalists were told two days ago in the wake of the u-turns on the pasty tax and caravan tax that there would be no imminent decision on the charity tax. The position is the same, said Treasury officials – there will be some form of compromise with the charitable sector, but not a full u-turn, and it will come after a consultation during the summer.
Today we were told there would be no consultation, and that a full u-turn would take place immediately. What on earth is going on at the Treasury? Read more
David Cameron is fond of saying that u-turns are not a problem, they are actually a sign of strength and a government that listens to voters and is willing to change its mind.
He may be right: voters stuck with him through a spate of u-turns early in the government’s life – on selling off national forests, on GP commissioning, on sentencing. But today we have three in one day – will this now start to look like a government that doesn’t know what it’s doing?
The key may lie in the way in which the u-turn is handled. When he announced he was abandoning plans to offer 50 per cent discounts on sentences for offenders who offer guilty pleas, Ken Clarke united the House in laughter by telling MPs:
I have done a few u-turns in my time, and they should be done with purpose and panache when you have to do them.
This is exactly the way Clarke has gone about his u-turn today on secret courts. Read more
Is the government in danger of handing over its reputation for being pro-business to Labour?
William Hague’s message in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that businesses should “work harder” to promote growth was certainly bold.
At a time when the economy is stagnating and the government’s strategy is increasingly being questioned, turning round and blaming the sector of the economy you’re relying on to turn that round seems like a reckless strategy.
Before we get on to why it’s not a good idea to blame business for not supporting growth, let’s mention why Hague has a point:
- The govt is implementing the cuts programme many business groups have supported, and is sticking to it.
- Corporation tax is low and getting lower – on its way down to 20 per cent.
- Embassies around the world are pushing UK trade as their top priority, and the prime minister has taken huge business delegations on state visits with him on several occasions.
The data released last night on how much the super-rich paid in tax in 2010-11 was fascinating. As Robert Peston comments on his blog, getting this information out of the last government was nigh-on impossible, as Labour didn’t want to put wealthy people’s tax affairs in the spotlight. So it is an amazing irony that it is a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition that is choosing to do so instead, as it looks to bolster support for its unpopular decision to cap tax reliefs, which will impact on charitable giving.
The Treasury released the data in an attempt to show us how much rich people avoid tax. George Osborne told the Telegraph that when he saw these figures he was “shocked”. And certainly there are some shocking figures within them, such as that thousands of people in the 50p tax band actually pay less than 20 per cent tax. Twelve people who are mega-rich, earning over £10m, even pay less than 10 per cent. Read more