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Monday, September 13, 2010

Jumping the gun

As we approach the Liberal Democrat Conference speculation about the outcome of the Government's Comprehensive Spending review, due to be published on 20th October, is starting to get beyond intense. It is said that anticipation is nine tenths of the pleasure. In this case the anticipation is proving to be as equally as agonising as the outcome.

There is still a general understanding amongst the electorate that action needs to be taken to reduce the £155 billion deficit and £800 billion debt that faces the country. How far they or the government are prepared to go we have yet to see, however what is certain is that the high level of premature speculation as to what is going to happen is not helpful and in certain cases is damaging.

The story that the Chancellor of the Exchequer plans to slash the welfare bill by £2.5 billion for people who are disabled or too ill to work is one of those cases. However, as the BBC say, not everything is as it seems. They report the government's response, that the leaked letter on which the report is based and which was written in June, is out of date:

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander told Sky News that as welfare spending made up nearly £200bn - it had to be looked at in the context of the comprehensive spending review.

"The context is one where we have to make significant savings in public spending to deal with the huge deficit that we inherited from the previous Labour government," he said.

"But things have moved on since June, in the sense that Iain Duncan Smith has published an excellent consultation paper looking at much wider and more radical reform of the welfare system."

He added: "Of course we are looking for significant savings in the welfare system. Savings that are fair; savings that encourage people to get out to work."

The point is that Iain Duncan Smith's radical reshaping of benefits is still under consideration. As I pointed out last month that could both reduce complexity in the system and help people back into work.

The lesson is not to believe everything that we read, especially when articles are based on leaked documents that have not been authenticated and are out-of-date and as far as the government is concerned, they must get their response in early, especially when there is inaccurate speculation.

That is the only way to keep things in perspective, at least until we know what really is going to happen.
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