GEORGE Osborne has ruled out tax rises and further cuts to welfare spending, it emerged yesterday.
The chancellor also indicated he would protect spending on anti-terrorism operations, vowing that Britain’s security at home and abroad would not be endangered in the spending review for 2015-16.
But most Whitehall departments have been asked to find savings of 10 per cent for the review next month. About £2 billion of cuts have been agreed, but £9bn of savings have still to be found, with the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office in the firing line. Mr Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron have also promised to protect the budgets of the NHS, schools and overseas aid.
“We have got to make sure that Whitehall is not let off the hook, that there are still substantial savings – better value we can get for taxpayers’ money – out of the machinery of government,” Mr Osborne said.
His comments came as Scotland’s human rights watchdog warned that controversial aspects of welfare reform, such as the bedroom tax, risk breaching people’s human rights.
Professor Alan Miller, who chairs the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said many of the reforms would not have got off the ground at Holyrood, where the Human Rights Act is embedded in legislation.
The seven Westminster ministries that have reached settlements early – justice, energy, communities and local government, Northern Ireland, the Foreign Office, Cabinet Office and Treasury – have agreed cuts totalling 20 per cent of the £11.5bn Mr Osborne has demanded from Cabinet colleagues.
Business Secretary Vince Cable made it clear that Liberal Democrats would block further welfare cuts targeted at the poor, unless universal benefits enjoyed by wealthy pensioners – such as fuel allowance and bus passes – are also reviewed. He said: “If we are going to look at entitlements, it’s got to be people at the top we start with.”
Meanwhile, Prof Miller told MSPs on Holyrood’s welfare committee that no “human rights assessment” was carried out by coalition ministers before they pressed ahead with changes to the benefits system.
He said the Scotish Parliament would be unlikely to pass similar policies if it had the power to do so: “I don’t think it would be able to do it, nor would I expect there to be a political will to do it.”
Focusing on the bedroom tax, Prof Miller warned: “I think it has the potential to become one of the most compelling human rights issues in Scotland.”
The Chancellor said he was “in effect” ruling out tax rises as part of the spending review, and said it would be a “mistake” to increase borrowing. He challenged Labour to “tell us whether they would match these plans”.