Outlook: Why the Chancellor's options are so limited

What does the Institute for Fiscal Studies' always excellent Green Budget tell us about the Chancellor's options when he stands up to give the real thing on 17 March? It must already be clear to Gordon Brown that whatever he does, it is not going to be popular.

The big judgement first; how much to spend and borrow? One in every 50 people in the country is on a waiting list for hospital treatment, and meeting expectations for a better-funded NHS is among the Government's top political priorities. Education, too, is crying out for more expenditure.

Yet the Chancellor has tied himself to Ken Clarke's spending plans for another year and staked his reputation on perpetual prudence. The Conservatives doubled the national debt in five years and left interest payments one of the biggest categories of government spending. There's still a huge task to perform in clearing up the mess. Nor should it be forgotten that after his July Budget Mr Brown was roundly criticised by many commentators for not being tough enough. They blamed him for leaving the hard work of slowing and rebalancing the economy to the Bank of England, piling on more pain from higher interest rates and a strong pound.

These conflicting pressures mean that the Chancellor will almost certainly leave the big picture unchanged. It is in the detail that we can expect the fireworks. Harsher treatment of company cars is pretty much a certainty; mortgage tax relief might be further reduced or abolished. And there appears little the Government can do to correct the well chronicled problems of its Individual Savings Account initiative. The Chancellor must also make a start on welfare reform, a potentially lethal minefield just waiting to be wandered through.

We already know Mr Brown plans a 10p starting rate of income tax when prudent, reform of National Insurance to bring it more in line with income tax, and a Working Families Tax Credit. All have their vociferous critics. Will the Chancellor go even further in March and indicate his thinking on pensions, on child benefit, on disability allowance, on saving for long-term care and on "affluence" tests?

It is in the detail, rather than the broad outlines of the spending review, that the potential for injury lies. Too much haste and he's certain to fall victim to the mines, too little and his party will begin to wonder why he was elected.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat