Clegg's hope of tax cut for poor hit by bleak news on economy

Credit rating alert and rise in jobless figures may force the Chancellor to rule out move

Nick Clegg's hopes of faster tax cuts for low earners have been hit by the succession of grim news in the economy.

Britain's cherished AAA credit rating is under renewed pressure because of fears over weaker-than-expected growth figures and the impact of the eurozone crisis on this country.

The threat of downgrading was raised as senior Coalition figures debated in detail the contents of George Osborne's Budget next month. The growing pessimism – ahead of figures today expected to show a further rise in unemployment – is restricting room for manoeuvre. Mr Clegg has been openly urging the Chancellor to introduce a £10,000 personal income tax allowance more quickly than had been planned in order to ease the pressure on family budgets.

The first increase in the allowance, from £6,475 to £7,475, was announced in the 2010 Budget and is set to rise again to £8,105 in April. Mr Clegg had been pushing for an announcement of a further steep increase to take effect next year. But as Mr Osborne yesterday reiterated his determination to bear down on public spending, the Deputy Prime Minister's chances of winning his public battle are in jeopardy.

Tory sources doubt the move can be seen as a priority when there is so little flexibility in public finances. Moving to the £10,000 threshold in 2014 would cost an estimated £5.5bn.

In addition, the fall in inflation would make it more expensive to push up the income tax threshold by more than the cost of living. The Liberal Democrats want an end to higher rate income tax relief on the pensions of middle and top earners. One alternative being discussed is to retain the 40 per cent tax relief rate while limiting the cash that can be put into a saving scheme in any year. The cap is currently £50,000, well beyond the limit of all but the wealthiest.

Mr Osborne defended his austerity package yesterday after the rating agency Moody's put the UK on "negative outlook". He said: "Here is yet another organisation warning Britain that if we spend or borrow too much we are going to lose our credit rating."

But Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, said: "With our economy now in reverse, unemployment at a 17-year high and £158bn extra borrowing to pay for economic failure, the case for a change of course and a real plan for jobs and growth is growing by the day."

Financial markets shrugged off the Moody's warning. British 10-year bond yields fell over the day, ending at around 2.1 per cent. Some economists argue the impact of any downgrade would be minimal. The US was downgraded last August by Standard & Poor's and subsequently saw long-term borrowing costs fall. Japan was downgraded by Moody's in 1998 but now has 10-year borrowing costs of less than 1 per cent.

Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said the Treasury's stance should be: "We couldn't care less what rating agencies say. The UK will pay its debts."

The rating game: What the letters mean

Aaa

The gold standard of Moody's credit ratings hierarchy. The UK and France are in danger of losing it. But Germany and Switzerland are safe.

Aa

Very low credit risk, according to Moody's. China and Saudi Arabia.

A

Low but not entirely negligible danger of default. Spain and Italy.

Baa

May contain certain "speculative characteristics". In other words, people who are willing to take a bit of risk in return for a higher return might consider it. Mexico, Brazil, India.

B

"Substantial credit risk". In other words, buyer beware. Mongolia, Pakistan and Egypt.

Caa

"Poor standing and high credit risk". Only professional investors should think about going near this. Cuba.

Ca

"Likely in, or very near, default, but with some prospect of recovery of principal and interest". You might get a bit of money back if you're lucky. Greece.

C

Toxic waste. Investors are not even likely to get the principal on their investment back. No states are rated this low at the moment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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 General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore