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One of David Cameron's key themes in his speech to the Conservative Party conference was that Labour has "made the poorest poorer", "left youth unemployment higher" and "made inequality greater". How fair are these accusations?
We reported earlier this year that, until 2007-08, the latest year for which we have data, the third term of this Government has seen a rise in income inequality, and a fall in the income of the poorest fifth of the population, justifying Cameron's claims. But Labour's record over their entire term in office is slightly different. Cameron's claim that income inequality has risen is still true over this longer period: income inequality was slightly higher in 2007-08 than in 1996-97. However, since 1996-97, there has been positive income growth, after allowing for inflation, at almost every part of the income distribution except amongst the poorest 3 per cent of the population. It is, therefore, technically true that those with the very lowest incomes now have lower incomes than in 1996-97, but we have argued that difficulties in recording income amongst some groups means that those with the lowest reported incomes can often have very high living standards . So the fall in income for those with the very lowest recorded incomes is probably not, therefore, a good guide to what has actually happened to the poorest in society.
How do overall trends in poverty and inequality compare with those observed under the last period of Conservative government between 1979 and 1997? As the figure below shows, income inequality rose substantially during the 1980s, dwarfing the small increase under Labour to date. And the incomes of the poorest 2 per cent of the population were lower in 1996-97 than they were in 1979, similar to what has happened under Labour. As can be seen in our annual report on poverty and inequality and our on-line inequality data resource, there was also a large rise in relative poverty during the 1980s, which compares with a small fall under Labour to date (although relative poverty amongst working-age adults without children has risen since 1997-98). Furthermore, we have found that direct tax and benefit changes made by the previous Conservative governments acted to increase income inequality, whereas those made by since 1997-98 have benefitted the poor by more than the rich.
Turning to youth unemployment, Cameron is correct to point out that youth unemployment was higher over this summer than any period since 1992, the start of official data. We have argued that the rise in youth unemployment during this recession is no different from what happened during the previous two. However, the level of unemployment is highly affected by the state of the economy, and the unemployment rate for 18 - 24 year olds was no higher before the current recession than when Labour came to power.
So it is fair to say that youth unemployment and income inequality have risen under Labour, and that, on a very narrow, and potentially uninformative, measure, the incomes of households with the lowest incomes are now lower than they were in 1996-97. But, although the performance of the last Conservative government is not necessarily a guide to a potential future administration, the record on youth unemployment was no better, and on poverty and inequality considerably worse, in the Thatcher and Major administrations than under Blair and Brown.
The Gini coefficient, 1979 to 2007-08 (GB)
Note: The Gini coefficient has been calculated using incomes before housing costs have been deducted. Source: Authors' calculations using Family Expenditure Survey and Family Resources Survey, various years. Taken from Figure 3.7 of http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/c109.pdf.
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Does offering higher teacher salaries improve pupil attainment?
In new work published today, IFS researchers analyse the impact of offering higher teacher salaries on pupil attainment. We examine salary scales and pupil attainment in primary schools in and around London. For these schools, and for the salary differences of just under 5% that we observe, we do not find evidence that higher salary scales for teachers have much impact on pupil attainment. This suggests that if individual schools offered salary differentials on this scale across-the-board, they would not necessarily attract more effective teachers.
The next five years look better but tough fiscal choices remain for Scotland
The latest public finance forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in December presented a better outlook for the UK than had been suggested by their March forecast. This is good news for the UK and Scotland in the short-term but much of the improved short-term outlook comes at the expense of reduced scope for economic recovery after 2018–19. Also the one area of greater weakness in the OBR’s latest forecast – revenues from oil and gas production – has substantially more adverse consequences for Scotland’s fiscal position than for the UK as a whole. In short, the new forecasts do little to diminish the tough choices that will face Scotland (and, to a lesser extent, the UK) if it is to achieve long-run fiscal sustainability.
50p tax – strolling across the summit of the Laffer curve?
Ed Balls and Ed Milliband have cited recent HMRC statistics which show those paying the 50% income tax rate are estimated to have paid some £10 billion more in tax over the three years 2010-11 to 2012-13 than was projected to be the case back in 2012 when HMRC analysed how much the tax was raising. Is that an indication that the 50p rate was more successful in raising revenue than HMRC concluded in their analysis?