Simon Read: Your country needs you ... to go massively into debt

Simon Read@simonnread
Saturday 06 December 2014 01:00

Cynicism is an important part of any journalist's outlook. I gave a talk at my son's school last month about careers and the jobs market. There were one or two other dads and former pupils doing the same.

We were all asked to pass on one bit of advice to the pupils based on our personal experience, and almost all of the advice was a variation of the solid recommendation to "work hard".

Mine was a little different. I told them: "Be careful who you trust." It's my job to question the motives of politicians and business leaders and not to take their pronouncements at face value. But I also told them not to trust colleagues and especially their own bosses – as everyone has their own agenda and, frankly, no one but yourself has your own interests at heart.

There was a great example of that in action this week when my colleague Ben Chu, our Economics Editor, examined the small print in the latest report from the Office for Budget Responsibility. He discovered that Mr Osborne's pleasing plans to slash the Government's deficit are built on growth underpinned by all of us building up whopping loads of new debt.

In short, he's reckoning on us going on a £360bn borrowing binge. That wasn't the headline in his Autumn Statement, was it? If he'd been a bit more honest, he would presumably have said: "I'll do all these great things for the country if you lot go out and spend more than you can afford."

I'm not suggesting he's encouraging us all into greater debt. But he seems to be banking on it. And, as most of us know, debt can be a disaster.

While borrowing is fine when you can afford the repayments, that won't be the case if something happens to disturb the equation – such as losing your job.

It's not just on a personal level that debt can prove problematic. If we all build up the kind of debt the Chancellor is banking on, we could end up on a collective financial precipice where a problem or two will leave us scurrying to cut credit costs. And that would reduce growth. In short, his move looks like a road back to the bad old days of boom and bust.

That could happen sooner than he thinks. The comparison site predicts that 15 million Brits will be forced to borrow money to afford Christmas this year, with 33 per cent putting their presents on plastic.

twitter: @simonnread

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