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Kate Andrews

Will Sunak’s sick note crackdown get Brits back to work?

Alongside the Prime Minister’s speech on welfare today, the Department for Work and Pensions quietly released updated forecasts. The numbers are stark: DWP expects there to be 3.96 million working-age claimants by 2028-29, a rise from 2.8 million in 2023-24. Meanwhile the number of working-age people receiving disability benefits is forecast to rise to 1.16 million – that’s 160,000 more claimants than was expected just six months ago. These are the numbers Rishi Sunak must grapple with as he sets out his welfare reform agenda.  Back in 2020, then chancellor Rishi Sunak had days to design the furlough scheme. Once lockdown became mandatory in spring 2020, it was a race

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James Kirkup

A pension crisis is brewing

Ten years ago, George Osborne blew up the British private pension system. Because pensions are boring and complicated and move slowly, a lot of people didn’t really notice. But the shrapnel from the blast continues to ricochet today and is starting to hit.  Chancellor Osborne’s Budget on 19 March 2014 contained the surprise announcement of ‘pension freedoms’. Previously, people retiring with a Defined Contribution pension (a pot of money and very different to a Defined Benefit pension that is an entitlement to a certain income) effectively had to take their pension savings and use them to buy an annuity, a financial product  delivering an income for life. Under the Osborne reforms, once

Michael Simmons

Worklessness hits eight-year high

Britain already has the worst post-pandemic workforce recovery in Europe. New figures out today show the problem is getting even worse. The number of those ‘economically inactive’ (not in work or looking for it) rose by a remarkable 150,000 in the last three months to 9.4 million – equivalent to the adult population of Portsmouth and some 850,000 since the first lockdown. Taken as a share of the working-age population, it’s now at an eight-year high – and significantly worse than it was during Covid or its aftermath. What’s driving the worklessness? The biggest single factor is long-term sickness, also at an all-time high. Is this just economic long-Covid, the

Kate Andrews

Did the UK leave its recession behind in 2023?

The economy grew by 0.1 per cent in February: not much to celebrate on its own but the small uptick in GDP all but confirms that the UK is leaving its recession in 2023. February wasn’t a booming month: services output only grew by 0.1 per cent, with transportation and storage services contributing the most to the sector’s growth (the former seeing its biggest boost since June 2020). The construction sector decreased by 1.9 per cent in volume terms, as the ‘fourth wettest February on record in England’ delayed projects. But a bounceback in production – the ‘largest contributor to the growth in GDP’ that month – provided some balance:

Martin Vander Weyer

The arrogance of Apple

Can flexible working get the best out of what a ministerial press release calls ‘hardworking Brits’ – or is it a couch potato’s charter? As of 6 April, employees have had the right to ask for flexibility – including remote working and hours to suit – from their first day in a job; employers can reject unworkable requests, but are obliged to consider and consult. If you’re an optimist, you’ll think workers whose family lives are accommodated by enlightened employers will be happier, more loyal and more productive: ‘5 a.m. will be the new 9 a.m.,’ declares the HR Director, for parents who choose to ‘tackle work before attending to

Ross Clark

Sadiq Khan’s Ulez has spectacularly backfired

What was that about Sadiq Khan’s expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) supposedly helping to reduce our dependence on cars and clean up the air? As well as the stick of charges of non-compliant vehicles, Khan has rolled out a very large carrot: £121 million of funds to help motorists ‘transition to greener alternatives’. That includes £49 million worth of scrappage grants for cars, at £2,000 a time, and £72 million worth of scrappage payments for vans and minibuses. According to City Hall in a press release last October, the whole package has resulted in 80,000 fewer motorists driving around London. So London’s streets are presumably now much less

Ross Clark

The problem with Rachel Reeves’s non-dom tax plan

By abolishing non-dom status, Jeremy Hunt was supposed to have clipped the wings of the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. Given that she had already earmarked the extra revenue – or what she hoped would be extra revenue – for free school breakfasts and a few other things, Hunt had suddenly punched a hole in her spending plans. But Reeves now claims to have filled that hole. She claims that she will raise an extra £2.6 billion – on top of what the Chancellor is expecting to raise – by closing a few loopholes. Non-doms will no longer be allowed to escape inheritance tax by placing wealth held overseas into trusts.

Martin Vander Weyer

Why Thames Water is the pariah of post-privatisation capitalism

‘It would have been ideal not to have so  much poo in the water,’ said Oxford captain Leonard Jenkins after losing the university boat race to Cambridge last Saturday. Thames Water blamed high groundwater levels after weeks of rain for sewage discharges that are a less unpleasant alternative than ‘letting it back up into people’s homes’. But no one’s listening to the excuses – for the failing utility, that is, not the dark-blue crew. Thames Water is the pariah of post-privatisation capitalism, facing a charge sheet of poor service and financial opportunism of which rising tides of river filth are merely pungent symbols. The argument that water should never have

Matthew Lynn

It’s hard to be proud of the FTSE 100

It has finally happened. In trading on Tuesday afternoon, the UK’s FTSE 100 index finally closed in on an all-time high. It hit 8,015 points, itching above the previous record closing level of 8,014 set in February 2023 – even if it was still a whisker below the intra-day trading record of 8,043, also from February last year. With stock markets rising around the world, at some point this week or perhaps next, the FTSE 100 will be setting fresh records daily. We may even be treated to one of those self-congratulatory tweets the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, specialises in. The trouble is, there is nothing to celebrate. In reality,

Ross Clark

House prices aren’t falling any time soon

The thing about having three prominent house prices indices, all of which publish monthly figures, is that they are forever telling conflicting stories. Indeed, today’s Nationwide index, itself, nods in two different directions: prices were down 0.2 per cent in March, but the annual gain in prices was up from 1.2 per cent in February to 1.6 per cent in March. So is the housing market up or down? The first thing to note is that the Nationwide index is seasonally-adjusted – a process which is always at risk of giving a perverse outcome because it assumes that the same pattern of housing market activity will be repeated every year.

Ross Clark

Martin Lewis is wrong about the ‘energy poll tax’

Given that a fair proportion of the UK public seem to want Martin Lewis to be prime minister, the government might well hesitate to dismiss the Money Saving Expert’s latest grumble: that Ofgem’s cap on standing charges is to be jacked up from today – from 53 pence to 60 pence per day in the case of electricity and from 29 pence to 31 pence in the case of gas. This rise comes in spite of the sharp fall in Ofgem’s energy price cap, which should see average annual dual fuel bills fall from £1928 to £1690. Lewis is not the least bit pleased, tweeting that standing charges are ‘an

How Starmer wants to reverse Thatcher’s legacy

Members of Labour’s frontbench have recently fallen over themselves to acclaim Margaret Thatcher. Hot on the heels of Rachel Reeves feting the Iron Lady’s determination to reverse Britain’s decline, David Lammy lauded the woman who defeated his party three times as a ‘visionary leader’. But like Mark Antony’s attitude to Julius Caesar, Reeves and Lammy come to bury Thatcher rather than to praise her. This appropriation of a Conservative icon like Thatcher is highly mischievous Labour’s shadow ministers invoke the ‘Iron Lady’ because they know a certain kind of voter, one Labour needs to help it win power, still goes all of a quiver at the mere mention of her

Fraser Nelson

There’s nothing conservative about the Tories’ free childcare rollout

On Monday, the UK welfare state will expand to cover 15 hours of free childcare for working parents with two-year-olds. In September, this will be extended to infants of nine months or more. Next year, cover doubles to 30 hours. The total cost: £5.3 billion a year. It’s the ‘largest ever expansion of childcare in England’s history,’ says Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary. This Easter weekend we see the bizarre spectacle of Tories attacking Labour from the left What is conservative about this? Nothing, of course. It pushes up costs and taxes. But the idea, at the time, was to to do this before Labour proposed it. To shoot Labour’s fox.

Kate Andrews

The UK’s economic problems are far bigger than a ‘recession’

It was extremely optimistic to think the UK could revise its way out of recession. After the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported GDP figures for Q4 last year showing a 0.3 per cent economic contraction between October and December, a recession seemed set in stone. Today the ONS reports no revisions to the figures. But even a small revision upwards would not have been enough to shake off the label of a recession. This remains a ‘technical recession’. Britain’s economy fell – just – on the wrong side of the line last year. Had the Q3 figures not been revised downwards in December last year – from no growth

Martin Vander Weyer

In praise of Andy Street

Commentators like me often lament the lack of business experience among leading politicians – but also observe how few business leaders ever make successful transitions into the political arena. Archie Norman tried his hand as an opposition front-bencher, didn’t like it, and returned to the boardroom, latterly to lead the revival of Marks & Spencer; Digby Jones moved on from the CBI to serve uncomfortably as a trade minister under Gordon Brown. But there’s one obvious exception to the rule that politics and corporate life require totally different skill sets: Andy Street, who is campaigning for a third term as Tory mayor of the West Midlands, the UK’s second-most populous

Ross Clark

The pension triple lock is a drain on the taxpayer

Jeremy Hunt’s promise that the Conservative manifesto will protect the ‘triple lock’ on the state pension is a desperate measure to appeal to the one group of the population whom the Conservatives feel they can rely on. But taxpayers will not be thanking him in a few years’ time. On the contrary, by keeping the triple lock – which increases state pensions by either the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), average earnings or 2.5 per cent, whichever is greatest – Hunt has abdicated any remaining fiscal responsibility and condemned the public finances to further ruin. The triple lock is already costing taxpayers £10 billion a year. Since 2011/12 when the triple

John Ferry

The SNP’s star economist eviscerates the case for independence

He’s only gone and done it again. Mark Blyth, born in Dundee but now professor of international economics at the prestigious Brown University in the United States – the man who was wooed by the Scottish government to join its economic advisory council in 2021 in the obvious hope he would lend credibility (and maybe a touch of stardust) to its case for secession – has eviscerated the economic arguments for splitting from the UK. What was meant to be a PR triumph for the SNP completely backfired As a quick recap, not long before Blyth took up his role formally advising the Scottish government, video emerged of him criticising

Freddy Gray

What is Labour’s economic plan?

30 min listen

In her Mais lecture in the City of London this week, Rachel Reeves set out her plan for Britain’s economy: securonomics. What does securonomics mean? Can it deliver wealth? Will it work in a high-immigration economy? Freddy Gray speaks to Kate Andrews and the author and journalist Paul Mason.