By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
People expected an iron bar smashed across their face, instead they got a solid head butt. So, strangely, lying on the floor wiping the blood from your nose, you might feel slightly relived at today’s budget.
PMQs was fairly flat as everyone waited for Osborne’s emergency budget, has there ever been a positive emergency?
Of all the welfare cuts, inheritance tax give-aways and war on pot holes (we have worse roads than Namibia apparently), one thing made no sense:even though GDP growth is expected to rise over the next few years, productivity is forecast to decline, from its already poor level.
More people are in work than ever, but do they hate their jobs so much they simply clock in and clock watch. I guess the graduate who works in Subway isn’t going to produce more sarnies per hour, it doesn’t even matter if they are given the lofty title of “sandwich artiste”.
As if productivity wasn’t bad enough, the new living wage (the minimum wage rebranded, when it was unveiled Iain Duncan Smith shook his fists like he had won the World Cup, “now the poor will leave me alone”) of £7.20 next year, rising to £9p/h by 2020, could also cut productivity. Of course the increase is applauded, but the Chancellor also plans to reduce tax credits, which could leave people worse off, even though they get a pay rise.
People will be terrified of being promoted; they might complete a task and “blame” their good work on someone else. “Please don’t enhance my career,” I will produce just enough to not rock the boat.
Perhaps Osborne’s decision to allow Sunday trading hours to increase, would could give zero hour contract workers an extended shift, to really get stacking those shelves in Sports Direct. However, it also signals another nail on the cross for Christianity; I wonder if Vicars’ are part of the productivity drain?
One thing we used to be better at producing was war and the tools needed to participate in them. So there were no surprises that the biggest cheer from the Tories today was for Gideon’s agreement to match the 2% NATO defence spending target. Whether it stops a lone wolf blowing themselves up on the District line is a moot point, it shuts up his right-wing backbenchers, always looking to resurrect the Cold War or invade the Ottoman Empire.
The engine of the original British Empire, the North, also got a brief mention, Osborne discussed his plans for the “Northern Powerhouse,” which consisted of Manchester having a bit more decision making devolved, not mentioning any other northern city (but did talk about Cornwall and the West Mids for some reason) and definitely not discussing the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester railway line, which has been “paused.” Like the trains often are.
You would be forgiven for believing that this budget was a tax cutting exercise and although income tax and VAT (the obvious ones we all understand) didn’t rise, this was a tax raising budget (of approx. £47bn over lifetime of parliament and deep welfare cuts of about £35bn).
Universal credit, which still hasn’t been rolled out, will now be a maximum of £23k in London and £20k outside the capital. The greatest masterstroke by the Tories, was to group all benefits together and give a total figure. I wonder if it was to make it more straightforward for benefit claimants or easier for people to be appalled at the figure they are entitled to.
What is interesting is the Conservatives have totally reversed politics, in the lead up to an election you promise that things will be better and then apologise when they are not when you get into power. However, they said how terrible it would be, and the sadomasochist inside us voted for it, but Osborne has actually slowed the pace of the cuts.
However, Gideon still aims for a budget surplus, now a year later than planned. I can’t wait for the day we hit this Nirvana, I will stop to hug malnourished children in the street and cry “we’ve done it”.
If our lack of productivity eventually produces a surplus, imagine what we could have done if we actually tried.