So Gorgeous George finally had his day. After months of anticipation, yesterday he revealed the size of his axe. And my, wasn’t it big? £81 billion worth of cuts, with many departments taking massive hits to protect spending of health, education and defence. The Departments of Communities and Local Government will have to cope with cuts of 68 per cent, god alone knows how it will survive.
If the Chancellor appeared unperturbed by the fact that the cuts will lead to 490,000 public sector job losses, he looked completely overjoyed to be slashing the welfare budget by £18 billion. For as well as blaming Labour for the financial mess in which we now find us, he also attributes responsibility to those who make a lifestyle choice to live off the state. I have yet to meet anyone who has chosen to survive on £65.45 per week (or £51.84 if you are lucky enough to be under 25) but I am sure that Mr Osborne knows loads of them. That is presumably why he has declared war on benefit scroungers and cheats and is taking tough action to tackle the cost of benefit fraud which he estimated at £5 billion (a number which is somewhat at odds with the DWP’s own figures something we will ignore for the time being but see Cathy Newman for an explanation if you are interested). He has been talking about it for weeks including several of the 61 minutes of yesterday’s speech and was banging on about it again on morning on the Today programme.
It is important for everyone to have an enemy and all those people living the life of Riley at taxpayers’ expense are his. But many of his Lib Dem colleagues are less comfortable with his choice of villain. They would rather that the government tackled tax cheats – and apparently it is. For during his speech Mr O did reveal (albeit sotto voce) that £900 million would be invested at the HMRC to tackle tax evasion and fraud which costs us, wait for it, a staggering £7 billion – yes, that is £2 billion more than benefit fraud. Now you will be forgiven for not being aware of this since it barely got a mention in the post-review briefings by Government ministers or in the media coverage. One does wonder why there is less interest in this war. . .