Osborne sticks to austerity line in Autumn statement
Despite upgraded growth forecasts, chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, delivered to the House of Commons today, reinforced the austerity already imposed and heaped further fiscal pain on large sections of the UK.
Osborne announced a further £1 billion of spending cuts a year to departmental budgets on top of the £11.5 billion already announced in the spending review in June.
Perhaps the headline announcement of the Autumn Statement was that young people entering the workforce today will have to work until they are 70 before they are entitled to receive a state pension.
The measure will introduce a new formula that matches retirement age with life expectancy. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress said: “Changes announced to state pension age mean that young people living in the least affluent parts of the UK will quite simply be working until they drop.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility’s announced growth forecasts were up from 0.6% to 1.4% this year and from 1.8% to 2.4% next year. Osborne said: “Britain’s economic plan is working but the job is not done”.
But Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, launched a savage attack on Osborne’s claims, telling MPs: “For all his boasts and breathtaking complacency, the Chancellor is in complete denial…for most people in our country, living standards aren’t rising, they’re falling”.
Despite increased growth, average wages are still falling in real terms, with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s own figures showing a drop in real wages of 5.8% over the course of this parliament.
Osborne announced that as of 2015 the overall welfare budget will be capped and that green levies on energy bills would be lifted, which he claimed would cut energy bills by £50 a week, but at the expense of proper insulation for some of the poorest households.
Clare Welton, of Fuel Poverty Action, said: “This cut for the fuel poor, and the cap for those who need benefits to survive, comes at the same time that profiteering, polluting and unpopular fracking companies are handed huge tax breaks by the government.”