Spring statement fails the fairness test
Spring statement fails the fairness test

Spring statement fails the fairness test

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This week, we look at the reasons why Rishi Sunak’s spring statement fell flat, building on the many column inches already written about how it failed to live up to expectations.

Will Snell

Chief Executive Fairness Foundation

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Why the spring statement sprang a leak

Since Wednesday there has been a rare show of unity in much of the media (and a large part of social media). The unifier was Rishi Sunak, who, almost everyone agrees, has failed to deliver a spring statement that rose to the scale of the challenge facing the country.

There was also a striking degree of consensus as to how the Chancellor’s announcements had fallen short. Looking at the reactions of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, the Institute for Public Policy Research, Bright Blue, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, the New Economics Foundation and the Women’s Budget Group, there is condemnation of the failure to protect the living standards of millions of people being pushed into poverty by low incomes and rising prices.

Many have also criticised the chancellor for making a political choice to support those who need it least, at the expense of those who need help the most. Even the mainstream media presented an unusually united front, with the Daily Telegraph and the Express joining the chorus of condemnation.

What about the reasons why the spring statement was so obviously inadequate in its response to the turbulent times in which we find ourselves?

We think that Sunak’s failure to act to protect those on lower incomes or benefits from the increasing cost of living is particularly galling because it violates all five of the fair necessities:

  • Fair opportunities: How can children possibly develop into productive and responsible citizens, workers and taxpayers when their parents, through no fault of their own, cannot afford to feed, heat or clothe them, but instead have to choose between these bare essentials?
  • Fair reward: How can we claim that our country rewards hard work when millions of people, despite working as hard as they can, are unable to make ends meet or to afford decent housing?
  • Fair exchange: How can it be reasonable to ask those with the least resources, facing increasing costs and declining real terms incomes, to contribute more, while failing to ask more of those at the top, whose wealth has increased so markedly during the pandemic?
  • Fair fundamentals: How can a civilised society allow millions of people to live in poverty, without the material resources to meet their basic needs?
  • Fair treatment: How can political influence in this country be so skewed towards the wealthy and comfortably off that a Chancellor can make a political judgment (whether or not it is a wise one) to favour an already-privileged group at the expense of a much larger group in greater need of support?

Poll of the week

What do you think a fair society looks like?

  • Everyone has the freedom and the responsibility to make the most of their lives, with minimal interference from government
  • Everyone has the opportunity to get on in life, and there are unequal outcomes because some people take more advantage of opportunities than others
  • Inequalities are completely eliminated, with the result that everyone has roughly the same resources and living standards
  • Inequalities are reduced, but not eliminated, because today’s high levels of inequality make it impossible to give people genuinely equal opportunities

Last week we asked whether you thought that the Chancellor should impose a windfall tax on the fossil fuel industry. A full 98% of you said yes, with just 2% unsure and no one against the proposal...

Reads of the week

The Department for Education is publishing its schools white paper today, setting out a range of reforms to “give every child the support they need”. One of the reforms is to bring in a minimum school week of 32.5 hours, on the basis that “it’s unfair that a child who receives 20 minutes per day less teaching time loses out on around two weeks of education and time with their peers and teachers a year”. Reactions so far have not been uniformly positive, with criticisms of unhelpful structural meddling, ‘gimmicky’ policies and inadequate funding.

Bright Blue have published a report on reforming business taxes, arguing that reform is needed because the current business tax regime “needlessly discourages investment and entrepreneurship”.

Geoff Mulgan has outlined five things the UK must prioritise in its pandemic recovery plan in The Conversation (helping children to catch up and recover, addressing mental health needs, looking after health and care staff, reconsidering urban design, and fixing failures of governance).

Philip Brown et al have written in The Conversation about what is it like to be destitute in Britain, with perspectives informed by their own research on housing and bills, food, ethnic minorities, pensioner poverty, and migrants and refugees.

Fairness Foundation updates

Our next joint event with the KCL Policy Institute is this Thursday, 31 March at 1pm on Zoom, discussing the social contract and what we owe each other, with Baroness Minouche Shafik, Director of LSE, and panellists.


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