I couldn’t get round to the Budget yesterday, but I’ve had the chance to look over the documents now. Probably more important than anything in the detailed figures is the global target for future cuts. In the budget speech, Osborne suggested that £30 billion savings would be found, consisting of £12 billion from working age benefits, £13 billion from departmental spending and £5 billion from tax evasion. The budget includes short-term savings in relation to some departments, but in the short term they mainly come from the Home Office, Defence and the DWP. That seems to imply cuts in policing, immigration control and defence procurement. Cuts in local government imply cuts in child protection, including action to prevent child sex abuse, as well as public services such as roads and waste management. Cutting all the things that the right-wing press is most exercised about doesn’t seem designed to win support in the coming election. The most plausible explanation seems to be that he doesn’t think the public, or his own supporters, will make any connection between doing the things that the polls say matter and the need to spend money on them.
Given the relatively large size of the sector, there’s remarkably little about social security payments. The main measures are listed on pp 82-3 of the red book:
- extra child care costs for parents of children with disabilities
- more work on real time information for fraud prevention
- limiting access to Universal Credit for EEA nationals
- extra waiting days for Universal Credit
- tax exemption for Bereavement Support Payment
- a requirement for self-employed claimants of Tax Credit to be engaged in commercial activity that is at least ‘working towards’ a profit.
There have been generalised noises about knocking another £12n off the benefits bill, but no clear indication how it’s to be done – the measures in this list have very little financial impact. The freeze on uprating will apparently save £2bn. Is it impossible to save another £10bn? I suppose it’s possible to imagine ways. After all, the projected cost of Universal Credit through to 2021 is a staggering £12.8 billion.