Election campaign leaves public ‘in the dark’

A new report from an independent think tank warns that none of the main parties has given enough detail about their budgets. Are politicians keeping their true plans secret?

The Conservative chancellor George Osborne tweets that under Labour ‘everyone will be worse off’. At around the same time, the shadow chancellor Ed Balls takes to social media to label the planned Conservative cuts as ‘extreme’. Both are citing a new report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). But the report itself has few kind words for either party: no matter which politician is speaking, it warns, voters are not getting the full story.

The IFS is an independent think tank which has been crunching the numbers in the financial plans laid out by the UK’s four main political parties. Each has promised different ways of reducing the deficit during the next parliament, but, according to the IFS, none has given ‘anything like’ the full details of their plans. This leaves the electorate ‘somewhat in the dark’ about the true nature of the spending cuts and tax increases needed to balance the books.

While the Conservatives’ proposed economic plan could reach a surplus by 2018-19, the IFS points out that the party has so far only given details of 10% of the cuts they would need to achieve this. That means cutting at least £30bn worth of unprotected services on top of the £10bn they plan to save on social security.

Meanwhile, Labour’s plans to produce a surplus are described by the IFS as ‘vague’. While the party would need far smaller spending cuts to meet its budget proposals, it would also rely on higher taxes and more borrowing to invest — a plan which would result in a larger national debt, and which could leave the UK at risk of another financial crisis.

The Liberal Democrats have been more transparent about their plans, the report admits, and are the only party which will stop making cuts after 2017-18. However the party also relies on raising £7bn through ‘highly uncertain’ tax avoidance reductions.

Finally, the budget by the SNP calls for similar borrowing plans to Labour, but at a slower rate. The IFS warns that these plans ‘do not necessarily match’ their rhetoric of anti-austerity.

Honest truths?

Politicians are treating us like children, many voters will respond. They refuse to be honest about the reality of their plans, only telling us what they think we want to hear and simply ignoring the rest. It’s impossible to make informed decisions if we only know half of the story.

We brought it on ourselves, counter others. Any mention of cutting beloved services like the NHS or of raising taxes would be met with such public outrage that it would destroy that party’s chances of election. Yet the budget will never be balanced without making tough decisions like these. If we want to be treated like adults, we ought to behave that way.

You Decide

  1. Would you prefer a party in government to increase taxes or cut spending on public services like education or health?
  2. Is it better for leaders to be honest about the questions they can’t answer?

Activities

  1. Compare the four economic policies outlined above. Decide which plan you believe will be best for Britain and write a paragraph explaining why.
  2. Class debate: This house believes that the economy is the most important issue facing British voters.

Some People Say...

“All politicians are liars — they have to be to get the job done.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why do the budgets matter so much?
The UK’s economy is growing, but the financial troubles of the last decade are still fresh in everyone’s mind. Get it wrong, and we could see a return to rising unemployment and a higher cost of living. At the same time, deeper spending cuts could seriously hurt some of society’s most vulnerable individuals.
So who can we trust?
It’s a good question, and unfortunately there’s no way of knowing for sure which promises will be kept after 7th May, especially considering the likelihood that no party will win a majority. In an ideal world, the answer should come down to which party’s values you believe in most.

Word Watch

Institute of Fiscal Studies
An independent research institute founded in 1969, the IFS aims to ‘better inform’ public debate surrounding economics. It is now the leading financial research body in the UK, and advises on financial policies around the world.
Unprotected services
Politicians (and here the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats broadly agree) have promised not to cut certain areas of UK public services. The most significant is the NHS, which — to avoid falling into a crisis — has asked parties to pledge £8bn extra funding a year by 2020. Other protected services are foreign aid and schools. This leaves many other services up for debate, including social security, defence, universities and policing.
Social security
In the UK, social security is controlled by the Department for Work and Pensions It includes welfare and benefits, state pensions and child maintenance.
Borrowing to invest
By borrowing more money to invest, governments can increase growth, and create more jobs. The taxes raised by this growth can then offset the initial borrowing and reduce the deficit.

Subjects