Don’t believe the right: the cuts will hurt

City AM's Editor, Allister Heath, argues that Osborne's cuts are small by historic comparison. His argument doesnt stack up and the facts speak for themselves.

City AM’s Editor, Allister Heath, had another crack yesterday at the right-wing talking point that the cuts won’t really hurt. This line has been tried before by John Redwood MP and Spectator editor Fraser Nelson. But rather than arguing that the cuts are non-existent (Redwood) or “soft” (Nelson), Heath took the line that they were small by historic comparison. The argument still fails to stack up.

Heath’s uses new data released by the Office for Budget Responsibility (Table 2.32) to argue that Chancellors Nigel Lawson and Ken Clarke and even Labour’s Denis Healey were greater cutters in a single year than Osborne.

He is, of course, technically correct. But in doing so he conflates two parts of public spending – the “costs of recession” caused by rising debt interest and welfare payments and the discretionary spending which pays for our public services. Thankfully, the IFS made precisely this distinction in their post-Budget analysis. The graph below shows what public spending looks like when those non-discretionary items are taken out.

The IFS analysis shows the “longest, and deepest sustained, period of cuts to public service spending since (at least) WW2”. It’s also worth noting some of the vagaries of Heath’s previous examples:

– Under Denis Healey in 1977-78, inflation was rampant and volatile meaning that the public spending settlement (which was set in cash terms) could result in either a real terms cut or rise depending on the level of inflation that year;

– Under Nigel Lawson in the late-1980s, Heath admits that “the reductions were painless as they were caused by a slump in unemployment benefits” – a complete reversal of the current situation where unemployment benefits are rising;

– The late-1990s boom also meant that overall spending cuts did not impact public spending to the same extent because of the corresponding reduction in welfare costs

Perhaps Heath should heed the advice of Conservative Home’s Tim Montgomerie who wrote last October that:

“I still think the argument being made by these centre right commentators is the wrong argument and is in danger of making the Right look out-of-touch with the real world. The cuts will amount to “just a scratch”, was the headline above Lawson’s piece (£). The fiscal retrenchment may not be as blood-curdling as some cartoonists portray but it is going to hurt – at least for a few years – and it is going to hurt some people a lot.”

There are many groups who will testify on this point in the coming years. Heath et al can try as much numerical sophistry as they like but it won’t blunt the real impact of the cuts in the real economy.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

8 Responses to “Don’t believe the right: the cuts will hurt”

  1. Mabel Horrocks

    RT @leftfootfwd: Don't believe the right: the cuts will hurt http://bit.ly/gp9mHL -> a response to City AM's @AllisterHeath by @wdjstraw

  2. Matthew Davis

    Are you seriously suggesting that ALL of the debt interest and welfare payments are due to the recession?

    On the contrary the main problem is that both dramatically increased during a long boom.

    When the predictable bust arrived it simply magnified this problem.

  3. william

    Some of us are old enough to remember a Labour chancellor,Roy Jenkins,who was economically highly competent.The cuts will hurt because Brown was out of control, pre the banking crisis, to which he was a large contributor.The structural deficit and the laws of compound interest are facts.Cuts?,minus 3 percent in real terms.Do you think the markets would wash ‘halving the deficit…’.Remember 1976 ,Healey being dragged of his plane at Heathrow.And that was before PFI , and public sector pensions for another million Brown non jobs.The real pain has been deferred to 2012, much bigger REAL spending cuts.I would hope by then that Labour understands that wealth is created in the private sector and that defending Brown’s deliberate destruction of England is political suicide.

  4. Will Straw

    Matthew – of course not. But the change in spending on welfare and debt interest is (primarily) due to the recession which is why the IFS have excluded it.

    Indeed, the Government’s decision to take £8bn out of the welfare budget by cutting non-recessionary benefits such as the DLA means that the picture above provides a rosier picture of how public spending cuts in the round will affect the public.

  5. Dominic Ellison

    Don't believe the right: the cuts will hurt http://bit.ly/ete70u

  6. jt

    Don't believe the right: the cuts will hurt: City AM's Editor, Allister Heath, had another crack yesterday at th… http://bit.ly/haNyaR

  7. Geoffrey Pearson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Don't believe the right: the cuts will hurt http://bit.ly/gp9mHL -> a response to City AM's @AllisterHeath by @wdjstraw

  8. Daniel Pitt

    Don't believe the Right: This dangerous cuts agenda WILL hurt http://t.co/3obFNTo #ConDemNation

Leave a Reply