'Business now has certainty,' the chancellor said at the end of his statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review; but that is the one thing business doesn't have. Much of the government's budget strategy is dependent on consequences which might be favourable, on premises which are almost certainly wrong, on sheer fantasy, and on that will-o'-the-wisp, 'confidence'. It is pretty clear that those on benefits of whatever kind will suffer, however the cuts are interpreted. Anyone disabled, or partly disabled and on employment support, or dependent on housing benefit, or in need of social housing, or reliant on local authority care - indeed anyone on a low income - will lose. And women will lose more than men. They are more likely to be made redundant by local government and the cuts in child tax credit are more likely to keep them out of work. The 'pupil premium' promoted by the Lib Dems - a kind of long-term bursary designed to assist children from poorer households in their education - might help, but because the Labour government's school rebuilding programme has been abandoned, many of the schools those with the premium can go to will probably fall down. In any case it turns out that the premium is not new money but will come from the existing education budget. Some people won't be affected: those among the old, for example, who are not dependent on local government care and whose benefits will continue to escape means testing, and the well-to-do who make little use of local government provision anyway.
LRB 18 November 2010 | PDF Download