Unclear deficit strategies 'depriving voters of informed choice'

The three main parties are depriving voters of an "informed choice" by failing to give details of how they will tackle the deficit, an influential think-tank said today.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said whoever wins the General Election will have to bring in the biggest cuts in public services for a generation.



IFS director Robert Chote also insisted Tory proposals for introducing earlier cuts would "not make an enormous difference" to the government's finances in the long-term, and criticised David Cameron's commitment to halting Labour's scheduled National Insurance hikes.



Unveiling an analysis of the parties' policies on tax and spending, Mr Chote said: "For the voters to be able to make an informed choice in this election, the parties need to explain clearly how they would go about achieving it. Unfortunately, they have not.



"The opposition parties have not even set out their fiscal targets clearly.



"The blame for that lies primarily with the Government for refusing to hold a Spending Review before the election."



Labour and the Lib Dems wanted to start reining back spending next year and be saving £71 billion a year - roughly the size of the structural hole left by the credit crunch - by 2016-17.



Meanwhile, the Tories would begin cutting this year, and complete the process a year earlier, according to Mr Chote.



"This would make the tightening even more front-loaded than it already is, at a time when the recovery remains fragile and the effectiveness of monetary policy remains under debate," he said.



"But it would not make an enormous difference to the long term outlook for the public finances.



"The Conservatives would still end up borrowing £604 billion over the next seven years, just 6% less than Labour and the Lib Dems.



"And, assuming no further change in borrowing beyond 2017-18, the Conservatives would bring government debt back below 40% of national income in the same year as Labour and the Lib Dems."



Mr Chote said that no party had brought forward proposals for significant welfare cuts, which meant reductions in spending on services would have to be deeper.



"Over the four years starting next year, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would need to deliver the deepest sustained cuts to spending on public services since the late 1970s," he said.



"While, starting this year, the Conservatives would need to deliver cuts to spending on public services that have not been delivered over any five-year period since the Second World War."



The IFS estimates that Labour would have to find further tax rises worth £7 billion a year in order to meet its plans, while the Tories would need an extra £3 billion to meet theirs.



By 2014-15 the Conservatives would need to find cuts of nearly £64 billion a year, Labour almost £51 billion and the Liberal Democrats almost £47 billion.



But no party had come "anywhere close" to identifying where these savings would be made. The Liberal Democrats had identified about a quarter, the Conservatives less than a fifth and Labour about an eighth, according to Mr Chote.



The IFS also criticised the parties for making "misleading" claims that spending reductions could be met through efficiency savings.



"Presumably the parties would try to spend public money as efficiently as possible whether or not they were trying to cut spending and would implement most if not all of these efficiencies anyway," Mr Chote said.



He warned that it appeared the parties were being "overambitious" about how much could be cut from public expenditure, suggesting that the next government would have to rely much more on "tax increases and welfare cuts" than anyone was currently admitting.



Mr Chote said the tax and benefits changes proposed by Labour were "progressive taken as a whole", hitting poorer households less hard. The Lib Dems' plans - including reform of income tax - would redistribute resources from the wealthy to middle-income households, but not to the poorest.



He went on: "The Conservatives would make the pattern less progressive, reducing the losses of households at the top of the income distribution proportionately more than those at the bottom."



He said the Tory package would encourage unemployed people to get into work, but would not push most existing workers to earn more.



Mr Chote also hit out at Mr Cameron's plans for reversing the bulk of scheduled hikes in National Insurance.



"Looking at the structure and efficiency of the tax system, Labour's pre-announced measures are not an attractive package (even given the need to raise revenue)," he said.



"The Conservatives would not improve matters. They would partially reverse what is probably Labour's least bad tax increase and add new complexities and distortions of their own.



"The Lib Dem package would remove some undesirable distortions and inconsistencies of treatment.



"But their plan to restrict pension contribution relief is misguided. Although it is somewhat more coherent and less complex than the other parties' plans it applies to many more people."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'