IFS announcements

Announcements about IFS research and researchers.

The vast and growing housing benefit bill

At over £25 billion, housing benefit is one of the biggest and fastest-growing parts of the welfare bill. About half of people living in rented accommodation get some housing benefit. 

So what is housing benefit and why are we spending such vast sums on it?

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, recently presented an episode of BBC Radio 4's Analysis series that looked at exactly these questions. Broadcast on 21 September 2015, the programme examined the history of housing benefit and the reasons why it represents a substantial proportion of the welfare budget today.

An accompanying article on BBC News online gives further background and context. Paul Johnson explains that housing benefit is a means-tested benefit paid to people on low incomes. For tenants in council or housing association properties it will usually cover their whole rent if they have no other income. For many of those in the private sector it will not pay the whole rent even if they have no other income. Housing benefit is withdrawn as income rises, but an increasing number of people in work claim at least some housing benefit.

He looks at how the housing benefit bill has increased as private rents have gone up, and concludes: "In the end the problem is with the whole of housing policy, not just with the housing benefit system. We urgently need to build more houses, public and private. But we also need a radical overhaul of the way we tax housing and approach housing policy more generally."

An opinion piece by Paul Johnson in the The Times (£) gives more detail - the failure to build more houses, both public and private; the misallocation of housing and how the tax system encourages people to hold onto what they have; and the huge benefit of homeownership but the difficulty for young people to get onto the ladder.

"At root the spiralling bill is the result of failures elsewhere and can only be tackled by dealing with those failures. It is the price we are paying for making such a mess of the rest of housing policy," he says.

Housing: Microdata, Macro Problems - CALL FOR PAPERS

A host of issues continue to limit understanding of the role housing markets play in the dynamics of financial markets, labour markets, and the wider macro economy. Mortgage and bankruptcy constraints, individual tenure and portfolio choices, potential frictions in the labour, housing and mortgage markets remain promising avenues for theoretical and empirical research and debate. Arguments about policies often hinge on particular modelling assumptions. Which assumptions are of first-order importance? Microdata or theoretical models that shed light on these issues are sought.

Thomson Reuters names Richard Blundell as one of their ‘Citation Laureates’

Professor Sir Richard Blundell, research director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has been named as one of Thomson Reuters’ Citation Laureates for 2015.

The award from the company recognises the publication record of Professor Blundell in economics. It is based upon the number of times other researchers have cited his papers in academic journals, as measured by one of Thomson Reuters’ products, so is a mark of continuous high-quality contributions to a field.

Each year the company uses its Web of Science platform to try and identify the most influential researchers in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, and economics. The timing of the Citation Laureates announcement a few weeks ahead of the Nobel prizes tends to give it a bit of a boost, though how much predictive value they have is, perhaps, arguable. 

Professor Blundell is the Ricardo Professor of Economics at UCL and Research Director at Institute for Fiscal Studies, where he is also Director of the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy. His research has advanced the understanding of the impact of policy decisions on labour markets and consumer demand, particularly in how families are affected by adverse economic conditions.

The other Citation Laureates in economics are Professor John List of the University of Chicago and Professor Charles Manski of Northwestern University in the USA. The full list of laureates are contained in a Thomson Reuters press release.

Is the tax system fair?: IFS/CIOT fringe events at the party conferences

All politicians and commentators say they want a “fair” tax system. If they say what they mean at all, they usually mean ensuring the “rich” pay more than whatever they pay now.

But what is “fairness” in taxation? What is a fair share for the rich to pay, and who are they anyway?

What about fairness between the generations, between the treatment of income and wealth, savings and earnings, employed and self employed? Between taxpayers and the tax authorities? Or between people who live, earn, save and spend in different ways?

These are among the issues to be explored in fringe events at the Labour, Conservative and SNP party conferences hosted jointly by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT).

Panellists announced so far to discuss 'Is the tax system fair?' include Seema Malhotra (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), Damian Hinds (Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury), John Swinney (Deputy First Minister of Scotland) and Philip Collins (The Times).

Attendance is free of charge and refreshments will be served. So do join us if you are going to be at any of the conferences. Details are below.

Labour Party Conference

29 September 2015 | 12:45 - 14:00

Victoria Terrace, Grand Hotel, Brighton, BN1 2FW (outside secure zone).
(NB. The Victoria Terrace is immediately on the left as you enter the hotel)

Chair – Chris Jones (President of the CIOT; Director of Tax Markets at Lexis Nexis)
Seema Malhotra MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury)
Philip Collins (columnist and chief leader writer for The Times; Chair of trustees at Demos)
Bill Dodwell (Deputy President of the CIOT; Head of Tax Policy at Deloitte)
Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies)

Conservative Party Conference

05 October 2015 | 17:45 - 19:00

Walters Suite, Radisson Blu Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5GP (outside secure zone)

Chair – Chris Jones (President of the CIOT; Director of Tax Markets at Lexis Nexis)
Damian Hinds MP (Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury)
John Cullinane (Tax Policy Director of the CIOT)
Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies)
Independent commentator (to be confirmed)

SNP conference

17 October 2015 | 12:30 - 13:45

Crombie Suite B, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC), Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, AB23 8BL (inside the secure zone – only conference pass holders will be able to attend)

Chair – Moira Kelly (Chair, CIOT Scottish Taxes Sub-Committee)
John Swinney MSP (Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary)
John Cullinane (Tax Policy Director of the CIOT)
Paul Johnson (Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies)

It is not a requirement to register for these events, but it would be helpful for catering and seating purposes to have an idea of numbers. So if you are thinking of attending, we would be grateful if you could email events@ciot.org.uk to let us know.