When the government talks of “ring-fenced” spending, it is referring to health, education and aid. But, in effect, the protective cordon extends well beyond these areas. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, despite forecasts of higher employment and lower unemployment between now and 2017-18, social security spending – in cash terms – is not coming down. Neither is Britain’s interest bill, as it would be unthinkable to default on our sovereign debt (currently £1.3 trillion and rising).
Add up all the “untouchable” expenditure – social protection (£220 billion), health (£137 billion), education (£97 billion), debt interest (£51 billion) and international aid (£11 billion) – and £516 billion of the Chancellor’s annual outlay of £720 billion is hermetically sealed. Thus, if he is to make a dent in his £108 billion deficit, i.e. the annual difference between tax receipts and state spending, he has only £204 billion to shoot at. This, given the constraints of political realities, is a mathematical impossibility. It simply cannot and will not be done.