|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
In order to place our fiscal credibility beyond doubt, this mandate will be supplemented by a fixed target for debt, which in this Parliament is to ensure that debt is falling as a percentage share of GDP by 2015-16. I can confirm that, on the basis of the measures to be announced
in this Budget, the judgment of the OBR, which we published today, is that we are on track to meet those goals. Indeed, I can tell the House that, because we have taken a cautious approach, we are set to meet them one year earlier, in 2014-15. To put it another way, we are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this Parliament.
At this point in the Budget speech, the Chancellor would normally read out their own set of economic and fiscal forecasts, and they normally tell the House more about the political cycle than the economic one. Those days have gone for good. Instead, I will give the House the latest forecasts from the independent OBR, taking into account the measures in the Budget.
Growth in the UK economy for the coming five years is estimated to be 1.2% this year and 2.3% next year; then 2.8% in 2012 followed by 2.9% in 2013; and then 2.7% in both 2014 and 2015. Consumer price inflation is expected to reach 2.7% by the end of the year before returning to target in the medium term, and let me take this opportunity to confirm that the inflation target remains at 2% as measured on the consumer prices index.
The unemployment rate is forecast by the OBR to peak this year at 8.1% and then fall for each of the next four years to reach 6.1% in 2015. Some have suggested that there is a choice between dealing with our debts and going for growth. That is a false choice. The crisis in the eurozone shows that unless we deal with our debts, there will be no growth. These forecasts demonstrate that a credible plan to cut our budget deficit goes hand in hand with a steady and sustained economic recovery, with low inflation and falling unemployment. What is more, the forecast shows a gradual rebalancing of the economy, with business investment and exports playing a greater role and Government spending and debt-fuelled consumption a smaller role-a sustainable private sector recovery built on a new model of economic growth, instead of pumping the debt bubble back up.
Part of the reason, as we have always argued, is that tighter fiscal policy can enable interest rates to stay lower for longer. As the Governor of the Bank of England confirmed this week at the Mansion House:
"If prospects for growth were to weaken, the outlook for inflation would probably be lower and monetary policy could then respond".
The subject of interest rates brings me to say this about attempts to compare directly last week's forecasts with this one. As the OBR notes in today's Budget document, any such comparison would be "misleading", because last week's forecast included the lower interest rates that expectations of this week's Budget have already brought about. So, as Sir Alan has written, actually to follow the fiscal path set out by the previous Government
"would lead to higher interest rates and...lower economic activity"
Let me now turn to the measures in the Budget designed to deliver this accelerated reduction in the structural deficit. The coalition believes that the bulk of the reduction must come from lower spending rather than higher taxes. The country has overspent; it has not been under-taxed. Our approach is supported by the international evidence, compiled by the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and others, which found that consolidations delivered through lower spending
are more effective at correcting deficits and boosting growth than consolidations delivered through tax increases.
That is the origin of our 80:20 rule of thumb-roughly, 80% through lower spending and 20% through higher taxes. This evidence has been available in the Treasury for some time, but was published only in a redacted form by the previous Government. We intend to follow international best practice and the Treasury's own analysis. My measures today mean that 77% of the total consolidation will be achieved through spending reductions and 23% through tax increases. I believe this gets the balance right.
I now turn to the OBR's fiscal forecasts. As a result of the measures I will announce today, public sector net borrowing will be £149 billion this year, falling to £116 billion next year, £89 billion in 2012-13 and £60 billion in 2013-14. By 2014-15, borrowing reaches £37 billion-exactly half the amount forecast in the March Budget-and in 2015-16, borrowing falls further to £20 billion. As a share of the economy, borrowing will fall from 10.1% of GDP this year to just 1.1% in 2015-16.
We now know, thanks to the OBR forecast, that the structural current deficit is significantly larger than we were told-0.8% of GDP or £12 billion higher next year. Thanks to my action today, the structural current balance will be minus 4.8% of GDP this year. That deficit will then be eliminated to plus 0.3% in 2014-15 and plus 0.8% in 2015-16. In other words, it will be in surplus.
Public sector net debt, as a share of GDP, will be 62% this year, before peaking at 70% in 2013-14. Because of our action today, it then begins to fall, to 69% in 2014-15 and then 67% in 2015-16, whereas under the plans we inherited, debt would have increased in every full year of this Parliament. The House will want to know that, as a result of our measures, debt interest payments will be £3 billion a year lower by the end of this Parliament than they would have been.
I have one further announcement to make regarding macro-economic policy. I can confirm that, as set out in the coalition agreement, the Government will not be joining the euro in this Parliament. I have therefore abolished the Treasury's Euro Preparations Unit-yes, one does exist-and the official concerned has been redeployed to more productive activities.
Let me now turn to my other decisions on public spending. The state today accounts for almost half of all national income, which is completely unsustainable. All parties in the House now accept that spending needs to be cut, and we have made a start, but we need to go much further if we are to meet our fiscal mandate and see debt falling by the end of this Parliament. Today we are setting out the overall path of public spending that will achieve that.
Let me begin with current spending. Current expenditure will rise from £637 billion in 2010-11 to £711 billion in 2015-16. Although this is an increase, the House should remember that we inherit a rapidly rising bill for debt interest-a bill that will not start falling until the debt itself starts to fall. Debt interest payments alone will cost the taxpayer a quarter of a trillion pounds over this period. One of my predecessors used to call this spending the costs of social failure, but I say it is the price of
economic failure. Compared with the plans set out by the previous Government, I am announcing today additional current expenditure reductions of £30 billion a year by 2014-15. The plans for public investment we inherit from our predecessors envisage a steep drop from £69 billion last year to £46 billion in 2014-15.
After the initial in-year reductions, the question we have been faced with is how much further to go on capital spending. Well-judged capital spending by Government can help provide the new infrastructure our economy needs to compete in the modern world. It supports the transport links we need to trade our goods, the equipment we need to defend our country and the facilities we need to provide quality public services. I think an error was made in the early 1990s when the then Government cut capital spending too much-perhaps because it is easier to stop new things being built than to cut the budgets of existing programmes.
We have faced many tough choices about the areas in which we should make additional savings, but I have decided that capital spending should not be one of them. There will be no further reductions in capital spending totals in this Budget, but we will make careful choices about how that capital is spent. The absolute priority will be projects with a significant economic return to the country. Assessing what those projects are will be an important part of the autumn spending review.
The Government can also dispose of assets that should rightly be in private ownership. Yesterday, we launched the sale of High Speed 1. We will look at how to dispose of our shareholding of NATS, the air traffic control services. We will aim to sell the student loan book and look at options around early repayment for individuals, and we will resolve the future of the Tote-at last. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will also facilitate a private capital injection into the Royal Mail Group, something that has been long overdue.
Before I turn to discuss departmental budgets, I need to say something first about another area of spending-the civil list. The civil list is the Government's support for Her Majesty the Queen in her duties as Head of State, and I am sure that everyone in this House will want to join me in recognising the Queen's loyal service and immense contribution to public life. The amount provided by the civil list has remained unchanged over the past 20 years, at £7.9 million. This has required careful management. Because of inflation, the annual payment is today worth only a quarter of what it was 20 years ago. I can announce that, with the full agreement of the Queen, the civil list will remain frozen at £7.9 million for the coming year, and I will propose a new means of consolidated support for Her Majesty for the future at a later date.
In addition, the royal household has agreed that, in future, civil list expenditure will be subject to the same audit scrutiny as other Government expenditure, through the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee of this House of Commons. I believe that this will mean clear accountability in this House and that it will strengthen public confidence.
Let me turn now to my decisions on departmental expenditure limits. In recent years, Chancellors have been reluctant to explain what their total spending projections will mean for Whitehall Departments, and
that is entirely self-defeating. It normally takes people at the Institute for Fiscal Studies less than 24 hours to work it out for themselves and let the public know the truth. I will save them the effort.
We have inherited from the previous Government spending plans to cut departmental budgets by £44 billion a year by 2014-15. This implies an average real reduction for unprotected Departments of 20%-not that this was ever said, or a single pound of cuts to programmes even identified. Because the structural deficit is worse than we were told, my Budget today implies further reductions in departmental spending of £17 billion by 2014-15. We have committed to providing the NHS with real increases throughout the Parliament, and we will honour our international aid obligations to the poorest in the world. Once these are taken into account, the Budget figures imply that other Departments will face an average real cut of around 25% over four years. Clearly, if we can find any additional savings to social security and welfare beyond those that I will outline shortly, then that will greatly relieve the pressure on these Departments and that 25% figure.
Of course, not all Departments will receive the same settlement. I recognise, for example, the particular pressures on our education system and on defence. Final departmental settlements, and the final split between departmental expenditure and annually managed expenditure on welfare, will be set in the spending review. Rather than follow the usual practice of keeping the date of that review a secret until a few weeks before it happens, let me tell the House that it will be presented on Wednesday 20 October.
A further way that we can ease the pressure on public services is to agree that we need to restrain public sector pay in these difficult times, and we need to do something about the spiralling costs of public sector pensions. Many millions of people in the private sector have in the past couple of years seen their pay frozen, their hours reduced and their pension benefits restricted. They have accepted that, because they knew that the alternative in many cases was further job losses. The public sector was insulated from those pressures but now faces a similar trade-off. I know that there are many dedicated public sector workers who work very hard and did not cause this recession, but they must share the burden as we pay to clean it up. The truth is that the country was living beyond its means when the recession came, and if we do not tackle pay and pensions, more jobs will be lost.
That is why the Government are asking the public sector to accept a two-year pay freeze, but we will protect the lowest paid. In the past, I have said that we would be able to exclude the 1 million public sector workers earning less than £18,000 from a one-year pay freeze. Today, because we have had to ask for a two-year pay freeze, I extend the protection to cover the 1.7 million public servants who earn less than £21,000 a year. Together, they make up 28% of the public sector work force. They will each receive a flat pay rise worth £250 in both years, so that those on the very lowest salaries will get a proportionately larger rise. In recognition of our armed services who are risking their lives for us all in Afghanistan, we have also doubled the operational allowance to £4,800. We have asked Will Hutton to draw up plans for fairer pay across the public sector without increasing the overall pay bill, so that those at the top of organisations are paid no more than 20 times
the salaries of those at the bottom. The culture of excessive pay at the very top of the public sector simply has to end.
We also need to deal with the cost of public service pensions. This is one of the greatest long-term pressures facing our nation's finances. The OBR today publishes figures showing that by 2015-16 we will be spending over £10 billion a year simply to meet the gap between pension contributions and payments to the unfunded pensions that they support. That is why I have asked John Hutton to carry out an investigation. As the Work and Pensions Secretary in the previous Government, he brings experience and an unbiased approach. He will provide an interim report in September this year to help inform any decisions required for the spending review, and a full report in time for next year's Budget.
The Government will also accelerate the increase in the state pension age to 66. A call for evidence will be launched later this week, and we will consult on whether to phase out the default retirement age.
Let me now address the largest bill in Government-the welfare bill. It is simply not possible to deal with a budget deficit of this size without undertaking lasting reform of welfare. It has been a key component of most successful fiscal consolidations elsewhere in the world and, around Europe, countries are now tackling their benefits bill. Germany has already announced €30 billion-worth of cuts to welfare spending, and others are taking similar steps.
Here in Britain, the explosion in welfare costs contributed to the growing structural budget deficit in the middle part of this decade. Total welfare spending has increased from £132 billion 10 years ago to £192 billion today. That represents a real-terms increase of a staggering 45%, and it is one of the reasons why there is no money left. It has also left an increasing number of our fellow citizens trapped on out-of-work benefits for the whole of their lives. A greater proportion of our children grow up in workless households than any other country in Europe. We are wasting the talents of millions, and spending billions on it in the process, so we will increase the incentives to work, and reduce the incentives to stay out of work. We will focus our benefits more towards those in need, and we will end some one-off payments that the country cannot afford any more.
First, we need to put the whole welfare system on a more sustainable and affordable footing. So from next year, with the exception of the state pension and pension credit, we will switch to a system where we uprate benefits, tax credits and public service pensions in line with consumer prices rather than retail prices. The consumer prices index not only reflects everyday prices better, but it is of course now the inflation measure targeted by the Bank of England. This will save over £6 billion a year by the end of the Parliament. I believe that this is a fairer approach than a benefits freeze. In time for the next Budget, we will also publish proposals to move the indexation in the tax system from RPI to CPI in a way that protects revenues.
Tackling spiralling welfare costs means also addressing the bill for tax credits. Spending on tax credits has increased from £18 billion in 2003 to £30 billion this year, and that is an unsustainable rise. There are over 150,000 families with incomes over £50,000 receiving tax credits. Taking into account the various disregards
means that families earning up to £83,000 are eligible for this means-tested benefit. The country simply cannot afford this any more.
We need to target tax credits on those who need the help most, so we will reduce payments to families earning over £40,000 next year and then align the thresholds for the child and family element. We will increase the taper rate at which awards are reduced, and remove the baby element for new children from April 2011. We will remove the one-off payment to new workers over 50 from April 2012, and reduce the income disregard from £25,000 to £10,000, and then to £5,000. We will introduce an income disregard for income falls, reduce backdating from three months to one month, and we will not introduce the pre-election promise of a new tax credit element for infants.
Sadly, there are further benefits that this country cannot afford. We will abolish the poorly targeted health in pregnancy grant from April 2011. At the same time, we will restrict the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only, and we will expect lone parents to look for work when their youngest child goes to school. We have decided that we simply cannot afford to extend the saving gateway, and we have also had to take a difficult decision about child benefit. I have received many proposals about this benefit. Some have suggested that we means-test it; others that we tax it. All these proposals involve issues of fairness.
The benefit is usually claimed by the mother. To tax it would mean that working mothers received less than the non-working partner of higher earners. To means-test it, we would have to create a massively complex new system to assess household incomes. I do not propose to do those things. I know that many working people feel that their child benefit is the one thing that they get without asking from the state. So instead, to control costs, we have decided to freeze child benefit for the next three years. This is a tough decision, but I believe that it strikes the right balance between keeping intact this popular universal benefit, while ensuring that everyone across the income scale makes a contribution to helping our country reduce its debts.
That brings me to another universal benefit: disability living allowance. It is right that people who are disabled are helped to lead a life of dignity. We will continue to support them, and we will not reduce the rate at which this benefit is paid. However, three times as many people claim it today than when it was introduced 18 years ago, and the costs have quadrupled in real terms to more than £11 billion a year, making it one of the largest items of Government spending. We will introduce a medical assessment for DLA from 2013, which will be applied to new and existing claimants. For people with disabilities, that will be a simpler process than the complex forms that they have to fill out at present. That way, we can continue to afford paying this important benefit to those with the greatest needs, while significantly improving incentives to work for others.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|