Leading article: A failure of presentation rather than of policy

For all the indignation, Mr Osborne’s ‘granny tax’ is both reasonable and just

Share
Related Topics

The Chancellor only has himself to blame. The storm of indignation over his decision to freeze the tax-free allowance for pensioners could so easily have been avoided. The proposals are both reasonable and just, a genuine tilt towards a fairer society – albeit a small one. But thanks to spectacular mishandling by George Osborne, they have been met with a storm of opprobrium and dubbed the "granny tax", a label he will struggle to shift.

It did not have to be this way. To put the proposals in context, the older generation has, thus far, largely been shielded from the Government's spending cuts. Older people may not have escaped the financial crisis entirely unscathed: the combination of ultra-low interest rates and the £300bn-plus quantitative easing programme has dragged down annuity rates. But the Government had, until now, left untouched the various tax breaks given to pensioners of middle income and above, even as benefits to all other age groups have been cut.

The state's relative largesse is particularly stark in comparison with the situation of many young people. The education maintenance allowance and the future jobs fund have both been withdrawn; university tuition fees have, in many cases, tripled. And all this at a time when youngsters aged between 16 and 24 must contend with the bleakest employment prospects their age group has ever faced, with nearly one in four of them out of work.

The Chancellor was therefore right to attempt to redress the balance. Protecting one group in society on the basis of age alone – rather than relative need – is both economically distorting and unforgivably unfair. Even more so given the longer-term trends that mean today's young generation can expect, for the first time in history, to be less prosperous than current retirees.

From the outraged response to the Chancellor's proposals it might be imagined that those most affected will be pensioners already struggling to make ends meet. Not so. The move affects only those on middle incomes. Furthermore, the average will pay a mere £80 per year more tax. Hardly excessive given the pressure being felt elsewhere, particularly given that state pensions will continue to rise and the falling allowance will simply bring it into line with that of working people.

The failure was not one of policy, then, but one of presentation. Thanks to the Coalition, the vast majority of the substantive measures in Mr Osborne's hour-long speech were public long before he stood up in Parliament. The squeeze on pensioners was not. To make matters worse, the Chancellor chose to describe it in terms of a simplification of the tax code. What he said was not untrue, or even irrelevant. But to refer to the single largest tax-raising element of his Budget in such terms was at best mealy-mouthed, at worst evidence of an alarming failure to think things through.

The Chancellor's efforts to defend himself with claims that his job is not "to write the next day's headlines" are disingenuous. It absolutely is his job to persuade the electorate that the policies he is pursuing are the right ones. Given the obvious potential controversy of changes to pensioner benefits, the Government should have prepared the ground with a sensible debate about what it really means for us all to be "in it together".

The issue will not go away. Economists warned yesterday that the Budget may prove more expensive than the Chancellor claimed. Meanwhile, the deficit remains stubbornly high, and the costs of an ageing population leave society unable to afford much it once could. Downing Street's reluctance to take on other expensive pensioner perks, such as the winter fuel allowance, may yet have to be rethought. And Mr Osborne will have to learn to explain himself better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

English Teacher Full Time & Part time.

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: This outstanding school in the ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album