A large deficit which needs cutting and this needs decisive action. This was the gist of the message from George Osborne, and generally from the Coalition government. Although there is nothing confirmed in terms of what to expect, it is thought that there will be a proposal to ease National Insurance for new businesses. He said:
“And so we’ve got to deal with that [the country in Europe with the largest budget deficit of any major economy]. In that sense it’s an unavoidable Budget, but what I’m determined to do is to make sure that the measures are tough but they’re also fair and that we’re all in this together and that, as a country, we take the steps necessary to actually provide the prosperity for the future.”
We already know that there are plans in place to increase capital gains tax from 18% to nearer 40%, but beyond that, little is known. There are concerns that this policy may actually cost the government more in tax revenue than it will raise. Other policies we might expect include a rise in VAT, and a slashed spending budget for pensions. These spending cuts and tax rises will help Osborne to eliminate the structural deficit in current spending by 2015, when the Coalitions’ current term comes to an end. The success of the Coalition’s policies and their ability to reduce the deficit without causing the economy to fall back into recession will be crucial in determining whether the current term is the only term.
Budget 2010: Britain on ‘road to ruin’ without cuts (including video) BBC News (20/6/10)
Where could spending axe fall? BBC News (9/6/10)
George Osborne says emergency budget cuts will be ‘tough but fair’ Guardian, Larry Elliott, Toby Helm, Anushka Asthana and Maev Kennedy (20/6/10)
Budget 2010: capital gains tax Telegraph (20/6/10)
What’s the Chancellor planning to take away in reverse Christmas budget Independent, Alison Shepherd and Julian Knight (20/6/10)
Public borrowing at a peak, says ONS, but tough budget awaits Independent, Sean O’Grady (20/6/10)
A bloodbath none was prepared for Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/6/10)
- To what extent is it necessary to cut the budget deficit now and not delay it until the recovery is more secured?
- How will easing National Insurance for small businesses affect the economy?
- If capital gains tax goes up, why is there concern that this could actually cost the government? How is this possible?
- The Lib Dems will oppose any increase in VAT, as they argue it is a regressive tax. What does this mean?
- How will the report by the Office for Budget Responsibility have affected Osborne’s emergency budget?
- What is the structural budget deficit? Illustrate it on a diagram.
‘Austerity’ seems to be the buzzword, as more and more countries across Europe make steps towards reducing substantial budget deficits. The UK has implemented £6.2 billion of cuts, with cuts of £50 billion expected by 2015 to tackle a budget deficit of over 10% of GDP. Portugal’s deficit stands at 8% of GDP and this will be tackled with rises in income, corporate and VAT tax, together with spending cuts aimed at halving the budget deficit by next year. Ireland’s austerity package includes public-sector pay cuts of up to 20%, plus reductions in child benefit, tax rises, and several key services facing cuts in employment, including emergency service and teachers. And, of course, we can’t forget Greece, with a budget deficit 12.2% of GDP, a national debt of 124.9% of GDP, and a forecast to remain in recession this year and the next. The Greek economy faces hard times with a huge austerity drive, including 12% civil service pay cuts, a large privatisation programme, and substantial pension cuts.
Greece is already in receipt of a €110bn rescue package. The Hungarian economy has already received €20bn aid from the EU, IMF and World Bank and spending cuts have been implemented, as markets began to fear that Hungary would become the next Greece. Germany is the most recent country to announce austerity measures, including plans to cut €10 billion annually until 2016.
But, what does this all mean? For years, many countries have spent beyond their means and only with the global recession did this growing problem really rear its ugly head. The only way to eliminate the budget deficit and restore confidence in the economy and ensure future prosperity is to raise taxes and/or to implement spending cuts. As the German Finance Minister said: “The main concern of citizens is that the national deficit could take on immeasurable proportions”. Unfortunately, this has already happened in some counties.
Although austerity measures are undoubtedly needed over the medium term in order to get deficits down, the impact of them is already being felt across the EU. Strikes have already occurred in massive proportions across Greece in response to the austerity package and tens of thousand of workers in Spain and Denmark also took to the streets in protest. There was anger from industry, trade unions and the media in response to €86 billion of cuts ordered in Germany between 2011 and 2014. The UK has already seen a number of strikes and more could be to come with further spending cuts in the pipeline. The Public and Commercial Services Union is threatening to re-launch strikes which began in March involving 200 000 civil servants (the action was suspended for the election.) A spokesman said: “If the cuts are anything like what is being suggested, industrial action by the unions is not only likely, it’s inevitable.”
EU governments have announced public spending cuts of €200 billion, together with a €500 billion safety blanket for the euro. Although these cuts are unlikely to have any positive effects for the everyday person for perhaps many years to come, in order to restore confidence and ensure a future economy that is both prosperous and stable, these austerity measures are deemed by many as essential. As Guy Verhofstadt (the former Belgian Prime Minister) said: “We’re entering a long period of economic stagnation. That will be the main problem for years. Europe is the new Japan.”
But will reduced aggregate demand resulting from the cuts lead to a double-dip recession and a (temporarily) worsening deficit from automatic fiscal stabilisers? We wait with baited breath.
EU austerity drive country-by-country BBC News (7/6/10)
Europe embraces the cult of austerity but at what cost? The Observer, Toby Helm, Ian Traynor and Paul Harris (13/6/10)
Germany joins EU austerity drive with €10bn cuts Guardian, Helena Smith (6/6/10)
G20 to endorse EU crisis strategy Reuters (28/5/10)
The Global recovery? It’s each state for itself Guardian, Jonathan Fenby (9/6/10)
Austerity angers grow in Europe AFP (9/6/10)
Austerity Europe: who faces the cuts? Guardian, Ian Traynor and Katie Allen (12/6/10)
Is this the end of the European welfare state? New Statesman (10/6/10)
- Are spending cuts or tax rises the best method to reduce a budget deficit? Explain your answer.
- What are the economic costs of the austerity packages across Europe?
- Who is likely to gain from the debt crisis in Europe?
- If austerity packages had not been initiated to the extent that they have, how do you think the rest of the world have reacted?
- Using the BBC News article and the Guardian article ‘Austerity measures: who faces the cuts?’, which country do you think is (a) in the best state and (b) in the worst state?
- How will you be affected by the austerity measures?
The final debate between the three party leaders was mainly on the economy. A key issue under debate was how each party would cut the huge budget deficit and how households and businesses would be affected. Something that we may see in the future is a banking levy and possibly new powers given to the Bank of England to ‘ration credit in boom years’. Spending cuts and tax rises are inevitable, but there were differences between the parties as to the extent of these changes and when they are likely to occur. The articles below consider these important issues, as the election entered the final 72 hours.
The broadcast debate
Prime Ministerial Debate: The Economy BBC Election 2010
Articles and podcasts
Economic debate: Banks and a balanced economy BBC News, Peston’s Picks (29/4/10)
General Election 2010: a fact checker for the leaders’ debate on the economy Telegraph (29/4/10)
Tim Harford on the truth behind leaders’ claims BBC Today Programme (30/4/10)
- It is not unusual for countries to have a budget deficit, so why is the UK’s receiving so much attention in the election?
- What is the difference between retail and investment banking?
- What do you think David Cameron meant by giving the Bank of England power ‘to call time on debt in the economy’?
- What is the difference between the budget deficit and national debt?
- What are the arguments for and against cutting the budget deficit now, as the Conservatives want to do and cutting it in the next financial year, as Labour is suggesting?
’The steepest and longest recession of any developed country since World War II.’ This has been the case for Ireland, which has seen national income fall by 20% since 2007. Many countries across the globe have experienced pretty bad recessions, but what makes Ireland stand out is how it has been dealt with.
In the UK, the government has continued spending in a bid to stimulate the economy and to use Gordon Brown’s phrase from 2008, we have aimed to ‘spend our way out of recession’. Ireland, however, did not have that option. With too much borrowing, Ireland was unable to stimulate the economy and needed to cut its debts in order to maintain its credibility in the eurozone. Last year, significant cuts in government spending were accompanied by tax rises equal to 5% of GDP. Similar action is to be expected in the UK following the election, where popular benefits may have to be reduced, as transfer payments do account for the majority of government spending. Whoever is in government following the election will have some hard decisions to make and everyone will be affected. Read the article below and listen to the interview and think about what the UK can learn from Ireland.
Irish lessons for the UK (including interview) BBC Stephanomics (9/4/10)
- In the interview, Brian Lenihan said that the UK was expecting too much from the falling value of sterling. What was the UK expecting following significant depreciations in the value of sterling and why has that not happened?
- What is a deflationary spiral? Why has it caused Ireland’s public debt to rise so much?
- Why does Brian Lenihan argue that there are limits to how much taxes can be increased? What are diminishing returns to taxation?
- Would the UK be any better off had we joined the euro? What about other countries: would they have benefited had we joined the euro?
Public finances aren’t in a great state – that’s no secret. However, what is remaining a secret is exactly how and when the main political parties intend to reduce the budget deficit. The UK’s credit-rating is under pressure and with the election approaching, we can expect government finances to come under increasing scrutiny. Whichever party forms the government will face the unenviable task of having to pull Britain out of a recession, while trying to reduce: 1) a forecast budget deficit for 2009/10 of £167 billion (about 13% of GDP), 2) a government debt of 68.6% of GDP, with 3) £73.8 billion alone going on interest payments and 4) a trade deficit of £8 billion. Who would be a politician?!
Phoney deficit wars BBC News, Stephanomics (26/3/10)
- What is the structural deficit?
- A fall in government spending may improve public finances, but why may it adversely affect the UK’s recovery?
- Outline the main proposals by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties to tackle public finances. Are any of their proposals viable?
- Why is the UK’s credit-rating under pressure? If the UK is down-graded, what could this mean?