Autumn Statement reveals key UK economic flaws, say critics

By staff writers
5 Dec 2013

UK Chancellor George Osborne’s UK Autumn Statement was dominated by short-term political considerations and a failure yet again to either address the underlying, structural problems which weaken the health of the British economy or move us to a low-carbon, affordable energy future, say Greens across Britain.

Nothing has been done to prepare for the economic storm on the horizon, they and critics of the Westminster coalition government in the various opposition political parties said this afternoon (5 December 2013)

In his presentation in the House of Commons, Mr Osborne insisted that “Britain’s economic plan is working” and that his Conservative-led government is overseeing a “responsible recovery.”

Labour's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls responded that the reality behind Office of Budget Resposnibility (OBR) predictions of a slight surplus in 2018/19 (rather than 2015): "Prices are rising faster than wages, families are worse off, living standards are falling year on year, long-term unemployment is up, welfare spending is soaring... and we have the slowest recovery for over 100 years."

The OBR has revised down it growth predictions because of concerns about the sustainability of recovery, with wages depressed and personal borrowing high. Mr Osborne has also borrowed more since 2010 than during the entire 13 years of the last government.

In response the the Chancellor's latest statement, Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader for England and Wales, declared: "Our current economic position is based on high and growing consumer indebtedness, as households are forced to borrow to cover basic costs, and a government-supported housing bubble. The Chancellor says that the sun is shining. Well that proves he hasn't looked out the window today, or looked into the lives of millions of Britons who are struggling to pay the bills, in far too many cases forced to resort to extortionate payday lenders or foodbanks to get by.”

"Instead of working to restructure our economy, to rein-in our reckless, fraud-ridden financial sector, to boost manufacturers and the real economy, to create stable, decent-paying jobs that workers can build a life on, Mr Osborne's focus is instead clearly short-term - to inflate the economy for the mere 18 months to the next General Election," she said.

Scottish National Party (SNP) Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP commented: "This Chancellor has a miserable record on economic growth and borrowing - and an austerity agenda of cuts, cuts and more cuts to come. The new hammer blow today from Westminster is that the retirement age is to rise yet again. This means that Scottish youngsters leaving school this year will have to work for more than 50 years to get the state pension they will pay for, and it takes no account of Scotland's lower life expectancy. The Chancellor is adding unfairness on top of austerity.And he was silent on the £4 billion threat to Scotland's budget if there is a No vote [in the independence referendum] next year .

“George Osborne has failed to meet any of his own targets, and is delivering an unfair policy agenda that has been roundly rejected by the people of Scotland - adding to the importance of people in Scotland voting Yes next year," said Mr Hosie.

Chancellor Osborne has increased the allowance to Scotland by £300 million, but Scottish Government finance secretary points out that this still does not make up for earlier cuts, and that taxpayers in Scotland contribute more per head in tax than they get back.

Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, declared: “A further squeeze on welfare, encouragement of another property price bubble, and cutting the energy efficiency measures that actually reduce heating bills are the sort of wrong-headed decisions what we’ve come to expect from Osborne and his ilk. They are stuck in the past with tax breaks for shale drilling, funds for nuclear power and unfair tax breaks designed to moralise about marriage.

“With each statement from austerity-obsessed Tories and Lib Dems, and the lack of a proper alternative from Labour, the case grows stronger for Scotland taking responsibility and diverging from the UK’s flawed economic model,” he added.

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “The Autumn statement was yet another missed opportunity to take the action that we need that will genuinely move us to a low-carbon, affordable energy future.

“The Chancellor has done nothing to tackle the root causes of fuel poverty or soaring fuel bills. Instead of watering down energy companies’ obligations, he should have announced a major programme to make all homes super-energy efficient. If funded through recycled carbon taxes, this could bring an estimated nine out of ten homes out of fuel poverty, quadruple carbon savings, and create up to 200,000 jobs across the UK.”

“The Chancellor has delivered a lavish Christmas gift to fracking companies – giving them tax breaks to support an irresponsible and dangerous dash for gas that will undermine the urgent action we need to reduce our carbon emissions.

“It’s ironic that a Chancellor who talks about going green is quite happy for the UK to continue to fund massive subsidies for both nuclear and fossil fuels. Taking real action to tackle climate change would create jobs, transform the economy, and help us meet our duty to secure a safe and habitable climate for future generations," said Ms Lucas.

"We have a false 'recovery' based on borrowing and spending. Haven't we learned anything? Let's stop using GDP as a measure of satisfaction," commented Green Party of England and Wales deputy leader Will Duckworth on social media. "Meanwhile, more of our money to go into the pockets of foreign investors as the government decides to subsidise another nuclear power station."

Plaid Cymru's Hywel Williams MP has criticised the Chancellor's announcement that workers will be expected to work for up to five years longer in changes to the state pension.

Mr Williams said that Wales will be hit disproportionately by these changes due to lower life expectancy, and that is was perverse to reduce the job opportunities available to young people at a time when UK youth unemployment stands at a million.

Speaking after the Statement, Mr Williams commented: "Ever since assuming power the Coalition has launched an assault on workers' rights so sadly this announcement comes as no surprise.

"Wales is set to be hit disproportionately because of shorter life expectancy and a greater proportion of workers in so-called routine occupations.

"Life expectancy is up to eight years longer in parts of Southern England than it is in parts of Wales, for example Dorset (83 years for men) and Merthyr (75 years for men).

"When I asked the Pensions Minister to review this variation in life expectancy, he said a review would take place next summer. We can only assume therefore that they have brought this forward because of financial considerations.

"Wales also has more older people as a proportion of our population, so the UK Government must act so that there is reform to ensure fair funding on the basis of need.

"It simply cannot be fair that after fifty years' work in demanding, manual occupations people in Wales will now be expected to extend their working lives to 68 or 69.

"At the other end of the labour market, it is perverse to reduce the job opportunities available to young people at a time when UK youth unemployment stands at a million.

"The Chancellor [is pursuing] pursues his ideological goal of shrinking the welfare state and abandoning those in need."

* More from Ekklesia on the Autumn Statement 2013: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/autumnstatement

* Energy Bill Revolution campaign: http://www.energybillrevolution.org/whats-the-campaign/

[Ekk/3]

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