The cost of social housing

Ever ask your Uber driver, Deliveroo biker, barista, your builder’s casual brickie or the guy mopping up sick on the Tube platform whether they have a bedroom of their own? Or how many share their lavatory and gas ring? Of course we don’t ask. We’re British. We embarrass easily. We respect their privacy. Their culture, innit?

It’s not good enough. Booming cities bring a price, and we’re not paying. Decent social housing is the highest of priorities and to afford it will hurt.

 

Libby Purves, in The Times.

How much do we spend?

The government is spending over £13,000 a year on every man, woman and child in the country: over £50,000 a year on a family of four. That ought to be enough, surely, to pay for policemen, soldiers, teachers, doctors, hospitals – and safe tower blocks. To finance this, the Government is borrowing over £100,000 a minute.

 

Bruce Anderson, writing in Reaction

The Trots will go too far and the troubled Tories are stronger than they look

More money goes to NI than to EU

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month showed that while Scotland consumed £2,824 more in public expenditure per capita than it raised in taxes — a source of irritation to the English — the average inhabitant of Northern Ireland consumed £5,437 more public money than they paid in taxes. There has been a payment from London to Ulster of about £10bn in each of the past three years, slightly more than the UK as a whole has been paying — net — to the EU.

 

Dominic Lawson, writing in the Sunday Times

Austerity, British style.

George Osborne’s great trick was to talk tough while putting into practice a programme which was admirably pragmatic and flexible. Whereas Ireland managed to reduce its gross public debt from 86 per cent to 75 per cent of national income between 2010 and 2016, Britain’s public debt carried on rising: from 76 per cent to 89 per cent. In short, Britain never experienced austerity.

Nick Macpherson, former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, writing in the FT.

Burke on Twitter

Love this line from Daniel Hannan:

If ever you find yourself confusing social media with public opinion, look at what Edmund Burke had to say about Twitter back in 1791:

Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.

Source: Brexit is happening – so let’s all cheer up about it – CapX

US GDP/Debt ratio predicted to hit 150%!

Federal debt levels are going to surge to 150% of GDP in 30 years as a result of huge unfunded outlays on healthcare, social security and interest payments, according to the US Congressional Budget Office, which is an independent body.

Other than now (when is is 77% – double what it was (35%) in 2007) only once has the level of debt in America exceeded 70% – and that was immediately after World War II. Over the last 50 years, it has averaged 40%.

There are lots of reasons why that’s problematic, not least of which is that it severely limits the government’s ability to respond to unforeseen events and cannibalises government spending which has instead to be ear-marked for interest payments. It also reduces national income.

Matt Ridley nails it

We can and must make an offer to the fundamentalist Muslims: abandon your political ambitions and become a religion as this has come to be understood elsewhere in an increasingly diverse and tolerant world — a private moral code, a way of life, a philosophy — and you will find the rest of us to be friends. But threaten the hard-won political, intellectual and physical freedoms now accorded to every man and woman, yes even and especially women, in our essentially secular society and you will be resisted and, pray god, defeated.

Source: Stand up for our right to criticise Islam | Comment | The Times & The Sunday Times

The Budget debate explodes a myth

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the debate on the increase in National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed is that it lays bare the lie that people are happier to pay more tax to fund the NHS.

In December, the Guardian reported Lib Dem leader Tim Farron highlighting research from October by ITV News that suggested that 70% of people would “happily pay an extra 1p in every pound if that money was guaranteed to go to the NHS”, while almost half of the 1,000 people surveyed said that they would even pay an extra 2p in the £.

Where are these people now?  A 2p in the £ increase suggested for a sub-section of people (a sub-section, don’t forget that currently pays less than those who are employed by firms to do the same jobs, and who will still pay less even after this increase) has led to all hell breaking loose. It seems the reality is that people want more money to go into the NHS, only so long as someone else is providing it.

The extent to which that is true could be heard clearly on last night’s Question Time, where repeatedly people commented on the fact that it should be ‘the rich’ who pay more. The trouble with that is that ‘the rich’ is nearly always defined by people as ‘those who are richer than me’.

You disagree? Then tell me this: what price do you consider is a fair one for people to pay for better services and better healthcare, assuming for a moment that it is true that both are created simply by finding more money to fund them?

I’m not an accountant, but bearing in mind the personal allowance of £11,000, it seems to me that the 2% rise in National Insurance contributions for someone earning £15,000 a year will mean an additional bill of around £80 a year, or £1.30 a week. The same thing for someone earning £40,000 a year means a bill of £580 a year, or £10 a week. And if you’re earning £100,000+, your bill will go up by £1,800 a year, or just shy of £35 a week.

Can we all accept that if you are earning £100K a year, you can afford to lose £35 a week? I suspect that we can (although admittedly I know people who would debate it – the same people who don’t look at their restaurant bill twice and wouldn’t notice if they’d been charged for the wrong bottle of wine).

I wouldn’t argue with the £40,000 earners who say that they are a long way from being wealthy even if they are approaching the top band of income tax, but it seems unlikely that they would think twice about spending £10 a week on something that they really wanted. It is, after all, the price of a (bought-in-a-shop) cup of coffee a day, and a lot less than they will be spending regularly on things they would regard as less important than their health. Having to fork out £10 a week more than currently will be annoying, but hardly unmanageable.

For the £15,000 earner life is tough: they are not earning a lot, by any yardstick, and the difference here of £1.30 a week may well make a difference when finances are tight.  But there are lots of people in this bracket out there, and presumably they were included in the 1,000 people survey, where nearly half of those polled said they would be happy to pay.

The NIC debate of the last two days might be couched in terms of a broken manifesto commitment, but let’s be honest: what proportion of people knew it was before that became the narrative? How many people voted the Government in on the basis of it? The notion being touted is that the Treasury didn’t even realise, so what price the idea that the person on the street did?

The debate might also be sidetracked by arguments about how self-employed people have none of the safety net of working for a firm – although interestingly, that doesn’t exactly loom large in the ONS’s study of self-employment trends.

And equally, plenty will seek to debate whether it is ‘bad politics’, but again, that is a different argument (to which an obvious counter would be that the bad politics was making the commitment in the first place).

The reality is that the argument about the Budget explodes a myth, which is this: when people say, “I’d be prepared to pay more to fund the NHS and/or social care,” they don’t actually mean it – and we know that because when they get it, they object. They argue in favour of a hypothecated tax for social care, but this is as close to a hypothecated tax for social care as we can get: £2bn being raised from a change in NIC contributions on the same day as £2bn extra was announced for social care. And people really, really don’t like it.

So the narrative that politicians are slippery and change their minds is a nonsense when you consider the fact that the public is far, far worse. Asked by pollsters in October about a policy, people were overwhelmingly in favour.

But in March, when it has become clear that that same policy will actually affect them as individuals, on top of being paid by others, they’ve changed their minds.

 

(This article was published on Spectator Coffee House today)

The tax take

The UK’s tax take has remained completely static since 1984-85 when it was 33.9 per cent of national income (compared with this year, at 33.7 per cent). “As Mr Hammond contemplates reaffirming his plans for the highest tax take since 1982, he should bear in mind that such a yield eluded his seven immediate predecessors.” Source: …

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London’s air quality is getting better, not worse

 

Do you think London’s air quality is better or worse than 20 years ago? Most people would answer “worse”, but they would be wrong. London’s air quality, though bad, has been getting steadily better. The average concentration of particles 10 microns or smaller (known as PM10) is about 20 per cent less than it was 20 years ago and the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide is 30 per cent less.

Matt Ridley

Source: Dash for gas could solve the diesel crisis | Comment | The Times & The Sunday Times

Venezuela

Last year in Venezuela, imports collapsed by more than 50 per cent and the economy nosedived by 19 per cent. The budget deficit is around 20 per cent of GDP. Market distortions mean petrol is sold locally for less than one penny per litre. The country has a complex monetary arrangement that makes use of …

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Business rates

Two takes on the increase in business rates: Martin vander Weyer in the Spectator says that the idea that it can be defended because it is revenue neutral is bunkum. He writes, “a smarter calculation of ‘revenue neutrality’ would take account of profits generated, jobs created and benefits unclaimed in thriving towns and high streets. On …

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Don’t be a snowflake

John Stuart Mill diagnosed what today’s “snowflakes”, focused on no-platforming people who have views other than their own, are missing.

In On Liberty, he wrote: “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Source: Students can’t be allowed to curb free speech | Comment | The Times & The Sunday Times

Bannon, by Gove

Bannon’s success has guaranteed him pride of place in the demonology of the liberal left and he’s been accused of every form of hate speech of which mankind is capable, including antisemitism. That allegation sits incongruously, to say the least, with his close personal friendship and political alliance with Kushner, who is an observant Orthodox …

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No Bland advice, this

Christopher Bland, who has died, taught people ‘always to make a decision: however difficult, never dither. Of course you might get it wrong sometimes. But if you’re any good at your job, you’ll far more often be right.’ As Martin Vander Weyer points out, it’s remarkable how many people rise to the top without learning to …

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Your view of a policy depends on who is promoting it…

 

Shortly before the 2012 presidential election, a senior figure in the British intelligence community was asked who he wanted to win. He said he was praying for Obama: if Mitt Romney won and simply continued Obama’s drone strikes, there would be tens of thousands demonstrating in London and questions asked in Parliament about how exactly the UK was assisting.

Source: James Forsyth, What No. 10 has learned about dealing with the Donald