Look Left – Osborne’s lucky escape, the rise of the food bank and the media’s role in the measles outbreak

James Bloodworth looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.

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George Osborne had a lucky escape this week. Not only did it emerge that he managed to reduce the deficit – by a mere £0.3 billion – but he also dodged a bullet on GDP figures, with the numbers showing that the UK narrowly avoided a triple dip recession in the first three months of 2013.

The idea that this constitutes any sort of victory for the chancellor, however, is bordering on the absurd, and is testament to just how low expectations are after three years of coalition government.

Net debt is now 75.4 per cent of GDP, up from 57.1 per cent when George Osborne took office, and the economy has grown by a measly 1.8 per cent in the 11 quarters since Osborne’s first budget.

This week James Bloodworth reported on the release of both sets of figures, and Will Straw looked at Osborne’s debt problem and at the sluggish rate at which the economy has been growing under George Osborne.

• Somewhat overshadowed by the release of consecutive sets of economic data, figures released this week by the Trussell Trust showed that the number of people using food banks for emergency food supplies has trebled in the past year.

346,992 people received a minimum of three days emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in 2012-13, compared to 128,697 in 2011-12 and 40,898 when Labour left office in 2010.

This week Left Foot Forward looked at the shocking growth in food banks since the coalition took office and produced a damning graph which shows just how desperate things have got for some people.

• The consequences of years of scaremongering linking the MMR vaccine to autism are currently being felt in Wales. 900 people have been infected with measles in Swansea alone, and there are fears that London could be the next city to suffer a measles outbreak.

The reemergence of measles as a threat to human health is in large part due to parents not getting their children vaccinated in the past 15 years. Blame for this can be laid at the door of a 1998 study, led by Dr Andrew Wakefield, which linked the MMR jab with autism and bowel disease.

Long after the study had been discredited, however, sections of the media – in particular the Daily Mailcontinued to write stories linking MMR to autism. We believe it’s time they apologised for that.

Progressive of the Week:

Martin Wolf of the Financial Times has been talking about this misconception for some time, and rightly so. Contrary to popular opinion, under the last Labour government UK net public debt was on average close to its lowest ratio to GDP in the past 300 years.

Neither the Tory Party nor their Lib Dem coalition partners will tell you this of course, but the narrative of ‘out of control’ Labour spending is a convenient myth.

The blatant dishonesty in the claim has more to do with finding a rationale for stripping back the state than it does with dealing with any perceived ‘debt crisis’.

Regressive of the week:

Payday lenders are buying people’s personal details, such as their email addresses and telephone numbers, for up to £60 a head in order to bombard them with loan offers.

A report by the Information Commissioner’s Office in December 2011 revealed that 36 per cent of the 1,014 people it questioned had received a text from a debt management company.

Carl Packman, reporting on the problem for Left Foot Forward, called on regulators to look into the practice of customer acquisition.

Evidence of the Week:

It was reported on Tuesday that rape convictions in England are at an all time high.

Data released by the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that the conviction rate for rape cases is at 63 per cent of cases where someone has been either charged with rape or where the police have flagged up the offence as rape.

According to the figures, there were 3,692 rape prosecutions last year and 2,333 convictions, up by 5 per cent since 2008.

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