Last night the Young Fabians and Progress jointly hosted an event on the emergency budget. Read about the event and listen to the podcast here.

The emergency botch-it

Last night the Young Fabians and Progress jointly-hosted an event on the Emergency Budget. Rachel Reeves MP, Kitty Ussher, Councillor Claire Kober (leader of Haringey Council) and Young Fabian Chair David Chaplin were all on a panel, chaired by Stephen Twigg MP.

Despite coming only hours after the budget speeches ended, there was a good, detailed discussion.

» Rachel Reeves MP highlighted the false comparison between the Greek and Canadian economies and the UK, suggesting that the measures in yesterday’s budget ran the risk of a double-dip recession. She didn’t believe the budget presented a positive vision for what the economy would look like in future, focusing far too much on government expenditure – she believed it was false to ignore growth as one of the main pillars of deficit reduction. She argued for a balanced, fair economic recovery.

» Cllr Claire Kober spoke about the difficulties the new housing benefits regime would cause not just for her own borough, but also other in London where property prices are high. She also said that her own council were looking at ways of creating their own Future Jobs Fund following the abolition of the central government programme as an “efficiency saving”, highlighting the wider indirect benefits of such programmes – for instance, reductions in crime.

» Kitty Ussher, now chief economist at Demos, highlighted the ideological nature of the cuts in today’s budget as well as the Osborne’s evasive tactics in relation to the OBR’s revised forecasts which appear to show that, as a direct consequence of the budget measures, growth would be lower and unemployment higher – she pointed out that cuts in benefits and a rise in VAT would impact consumer spending, a key determinant of growth in the UK economy.

» David Chaplin said it was the first time he had experienced a Budget speech where cuts were ideologically driven, and that many other young people would be experiencing the same for the first time too. He highlighted measures which he thought would affect young people in the future, particularly a reduction in the spending on skills which he said was vital to social mobility. He also argued that Labour needed to change the way it responded to the economic narrative being written by the coalition government or risk being out of power for a generation – he called on the Labour leadership candidates to be more specific about the sorts of economic measures they would advocate were they to win, arguing that we couldn’t oppose every single measure implemented by the government without offering a credible alternative.

The debate from the floor was good – particular policies were highlighted as pernicious, such as the changes to disability living allowances and housing benefit – but there was pragmatism in the room. The panel and the floor recognised that had Labour been in government then they too would have to have made difficult decisions, and also that Labour didn’t get everything right while in government (there was particular discussion about improving the housing benefit system).

Nonetheless, as Rachel Reeves eloquently argued, we need to tackle the coalition head-on on the argument that the cuts presented yesterday are “unavoidable” – growth is a key way of reducing the deficit and the measures announced will slow trend growth – and even where we do cut, there is a fair way to do it and then there was yesterday’s budget.

Perhaps surprisingly, there was little discussion about the Liberal Democrats’ role in the budget measures.

Overall, the consensus at yesterday’s event was that Osborne’s announcement wasn’t a budget, it was a botch-it.


A podcast of the event will be published on the Young Fabian website, where this post was also published

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