2015 Budget Bullshit

I might be a bit jaded at the moment, but I don’t have anything interesting or insightful to say about today’s Budget, so instead I’d though I’d just make some snarky comments instead.

I hate the language of politicians. They dumb down, make false equivalencies, and use slogans that just don’t make any sense. George Osborne (or whoever writes his speeches) is no exception. Here are some bullshit phrases he used today that particularly annoyed me.

1. “Today, I report on a Britain that is growing, creating jobs and paying its way.”

Line one. Bad start. “Paying its way” doesn’t really mean anything in the context of a nation state does it?

2. “Britain is walking tall again.”

I’ve already seen this line parroted by assorted Tories several times. Please stop.

3. “Today we make that critical choice: we choose the future.”

Obviously been watching Trainspotting again. I suppose he thinks Labour would say “We chose not to choose the future; we chose something else.” He goes a mental for the next few lines doing the full PF Project track.

4. “Real Household Disposable Income per capita.”

Osborne wants to say that living standards are higher than they were 5 years ago. You would bloody well hope so, but the only way he can say this is to define living standards using the tortuous formulation above.

5. “We will also use this opportunity to lock in the historically low interest rates for the long term.

I can tell the House that we will increase the number of long-dated gilts that we sell.”

Maybe someone smarter than me can tell me why this is a good idea. If you can borrow short term at real rates close to zero, why would you borrow at higher rates over a longer period?

6. “Lower inflation means lower interest charges on government gilts.”

This sounds like bullshit. Perhaps someone could confirm?

7. “We’d be spending money we didn’t really have.”

The UK government never “doesn’t have money”. What is he talking about?

8. “The hard work and sacrifice of the British people has paid off.”

Well done British people!

9. “The sun is starting to shine – and we are fixing the roof.”

My old favourite, an analogy that has no relevance here.

10. “So the OBR report today that debt as a share of GDP falls from 80.4% in 2014-15; to 80.2% in the year 2015-16.”

I’d like to see the sums on this one. I reckon there’s some serious creative accounting going on (not that it matters in the slightest).

That’s only half the speech covered. I could go one, but I’ve kind of lost the will. There was a load of stuff about “rewarding savers”, which is generally a terrible idea for capitalist economies which rely on spending not saving, particularly when the government plans to continue to tighten it’s belt. We can’t all do so at the same time! Any way, a lot to hate in Osborne’s speech. 50 more days or so and it will all be over.

Benefit Cap Bullshit

Iain Duncan Smith got himself into bother a while back when he claimed DWP research showed that as a result of the benefit cap being announced, 8,000 people who would be affected by it have found work. The UK Statistics Authority disagreed however saying the claim “is unsupported by the official statistics…“. When finally challenged about this on the Today programme this morning, this exchange followed (JH is John Humphrys):

JH: “The problem is that you made claims about how things were changing on the basis of the trials that were being carried out and all the rest of it, and they turned out not to be well-founded. You said we’ve seen already, already you said, this is a statement you made in May, already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. But when the National Statistics Authority looked at that, they said ‘not true’.”

IDS: “No, what they said was that you can’t absolutely prove that those two things are connected.”

JH: “Your statement is unsupported by the official statistics published by your own department.”

IDS: “Yes but by the way, you can’t disprove what I said either. The reality is [interruption] no, no, no, let me finish. There’s an answer.”

JH: “You can make any claim on that basis.”

IDS: “I am, I believe that this to be right. I believe that we are already seeing people go back to work, who were not going to go back to work until they were assured of the cap. Look we just published some polling today, John, on this very group.”

JH: “Polling isn’t statistics.”

IDS: “Hold on let me just give you this. We polled and we found that something like 72% of those who report have been very infrequently in work in the past since being notified by the cap have gone back to work. I believe that this will show, as we go forward, that people who were not seeking work are now seeking work because that’s the way to avoid the cap.”

So first IDS says don’t worry about the evidence, because he believes it’s true, but then cites new research which he claims also supports his assertions. Does it though? Here is the report IDS cited this morning. Ipsos Mori undertook telephone interviews with 500 of the 8,000 people who had found work since the announcement of the benefit cap to try to show that people had been motivated by the cap to find work.

The problem is that they did not find that. Remember, IDS originally tried to claim that all 8,000 had moved into work because of the benefit cap. The survey found though that 15% of them hadn’t even heard of the benefit cap, and another 31% only knew a little about it. Only 57% remembered being informed that the cap would affect them, and of these, 71% were already looking for work.

About half of those who remembered getting a letter about the cap took action afterwards. For 31%, this meant looking for work (although half of these were already looking). This means of the 500 surveyed, only around 45 people started looking for work because of the cap that weren’t doing so before. 45!!

Looking at the results then, and if we assume the survey was representative of all 8,000 people, far from being able to say all 8,000 found work as a direct result of the cap, the best that can be said in reality is that about 720 people started looking for work and found it after hearing of the cap that weren’t looking before. Not a particularly impressive behavioral change. On IDS once again, we must call BULLSHIT!