Ten days after the announcement of indecent tax cuts, Liz Truss’ spectacular U-turn

Thatcher’s heritage, tax giveaways, poorly distributed and poorly funded benefits: austerity gaining ground in the UK

13 October 2022 by Maxime Perriot


Liz Truss, Première ministre du Royaume-Uni depuis le 6 septembre 2022. « Liz Truss » by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/jp/?ref=openverse.

Appointed on 6 September 2022, Liz Truss, the new British Prime Minister, rests her legitimacy on the choice made by the 172,000 members of the Conservative party. [1] This ’electorate’, mostly older and rich, voted for a programme of tax cuts and deregulation of the British economy. As if to reassure them, the new Prime Minister announced, shortly after herelection, that she was not there to hand out subsidies. [2] At the same time, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, defined the government’s main objective as: monetary stability and fiscal discipline in the medium term. [3] This is not surprising from a new Prime Minister who takes Margaret Thatcher as her model. Thatcher had severely tightened the conditions for strike action in the UK, Liz Truss wants to increase the minimum percentage of union members present at the official consultation before strike action. [4] Liz Truss also wants to impose a minimum service, in case of strikes, on national infrastructures such as railways and buses, which amounts to authorized strike-breaking. [5] Nevertheless, the new Prime Minister’s enthusiastic neoliberalism was quickly curbed and she was obliged to make a spectacular U-turn on the first measures announced.



 Unprecedented: Liz Truss announces tax giveaways then backtracks ten days later

On 23 September 2022, Liz Truss announced a plan combining poorly distributed inflation Inflation The cumulated rise of prices as a whole (e.g. a rise in the price of petroleum, eventually leading to a rise in salaries, then to the rise of other prices, etc.). Inflation implies a fall in the value of money since, as time goes by, larger sums are required to purchase particular items. This is the reason why corporate-driven policies seek to keep inflation down. relief for British households (detailed below) and major tax cuts for the wealthiest. The government’s aim was to reduce the tax rate from 45% to 40% for taxpayers earning over £150,000 (€171,452). [6]

Even the IMF, which is not one to take offence at measures that favour the rich, publicly expressed concern about the announcements made by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, fearing a ’rise in inequality’

A tax cut representing 1.5% of GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
has been unheard of for 50 years. Ten days later, faced with the anger of the unions, social movements, the Labour opposition and the panic of the financial markets, which caused the pound to fall and government borrowing rates to rise, [7] the Prime Minister backtracked on the tax cuts offered to the most favoured. Indeed, financial markets panicked at the increase in spending and the decrease in government revenue, anticipating a sharp rise in public debt. Even the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

http://imf.org
, which is not one to take offence at measures that favour the rich, publicly expressed concern about the announcements made by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, fearing a ’rise in inequality’. [8] This dramatic and extremely rare retreat, especially in a Prime Minister’s first days in office, undermines Liz Truss, who had acknowledged that her policies would favour the wealthy. [9] Despite this, the occupant of 10 Downing Street announced that she had not abandoned her intention of reducing the level of taxation on the richest. [10] To understand this episode, let us now look back at Liz Truss’s arrival in power, from the context of her election to her first measures and the consequences to be expected from her policies.

 Liz Truss comes to power amidst inflation and a wave of strikes

Liz Truss entered Downing Street against a backdrop of inflation and stagnant wages. Notably caused by an energy crisis, and largely amplified by speculation, this inflation reached more than 10% in July 2022. [11] Combined with the drop in economic activity, it has provoked deep social discontent characterized by one of the most massive strike movements in decades. It has affected several sectors: railway workers, dockers, lawyers and teachers. [12] The protest also led to the ’Don’t pay UK’ movement. A petition has been launched not to pay energy bills hoping to convince one million people to pledge not to do so by 1 October 2022. [13] These movements are exploding in a country particularly hard hit by rising energy prices, the price of gas, for example, has increased sevenfold in one year. [14]

Despite her goal to press forward in disengaging the state from the economy, Liz Truss is under pressure from ’Don’t Pay’, the unions (although the strikes stopped with the death of Queen Elizabeth II), non-governmental organizations and many economists. She had no choice but to respond to soaring energy prices, especially as energy bill caps were due to almost double by 1 October 2022. [15] Many British households would not have been able to pay, which would have amplified the social anger and made it uncontrollable.

 Liz Truss freezes energy prices and cuts taxes for the richest: measures that benefit the rich more than the needy

On taking office, Liz Truss announced a number of measures - including an energy price freeze and tax cuts - that favour the rich over the needy.

The first measures will save the top income decile of households, on average, £4,700. Wheras, for the lowest income decile the benefit will only reach £2,200

The first key measure was the freezing of home energy prices for two years. The average UK household’s energy bill will be £2,500 per year. [16] For the average UK household, this will mean a saving of around £1,000 a year. If nothing had been done, energy bills would have almost doubled by October 2022 to an average of £3,549 per year. Finally, it should be noted that the energy price freeze comes on top of a £400 reduction granted by the previous government.

However, according to the Resolution Foundation, these first measures will save the top income decile of households, on average, £4,700. Wheras, for the lowest income decile, the benefit of the measures announced by Liz Truss will, on average, only reach £2,200. [17]

There are two main reasons for this gap / differential. The first is that the wealthiest households consume much more energy. Their homes are much bigger and therefore require more heating, and their cars also are more numerous and bigger. As the measures freeze energy prices without targeting a particular population, their benefit - in absolute terms - is more felt by those who consume the most. On the other hand, the gap between the benefit of the first government measures announced for the poorest and the richest is explained by the tax cut announced by Liz Truss for next spring. This cut - which will benefit the richest households 250 times more than the poorest [18] – will be passed on to national insurance. It therefore means less money for a fund (the National Insurance system) which is used to fund social care Care Le concept de « care work » (travail de soin) fait référence à un ensemble de pratiques matérielles et psychologiques destinées à apporter une réponse concrète aux besoins des autres et d’une communauté (dont des écosystèmes). On préfère le concept de care à celui de travail « domestique » ou de « reproduction » car il intègre les dimensions émotionnelles et psychologiques (charge mentale, affection, soutien), et il ne se limite pas aux aspects « privés » et gratuit en englobant également les activités rémunérées nécessaires à la reproduction de la vie humaine. and the National Health system. The Prime Minister defends this deeply unequal tax policy, saying that not all economic policies should be seen through the lens of redistribution. [19]

Liz Truss has also decided to suspend an energy tax created to fund the energy transition to carbon neutrality, with the aim of lowering energy bills for British households. [20] After the terrible summer of 2022, it is clear that the green and energy bifurcation is a priority that must mobilize massive resources. Relief for households must be achieved by other means than suspending a dedicated tax, even if the said tax is already considered to be insufficient.

To respond to the energy crisis, Liz Truss revives shale gas exploitation

In an effort to produce more energy less dependent on imports, Liz Truss has decided to lift the moratorium on shale gas production. [21] Rather than targeting the lifestyles of the wealthiest who pollute the most - in 2019, the richest 10% emitted half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions [22] – through regulation or taxation, Liz Truss decided to revive fracking.

This process, which is widespread in the United States, has had many harmful consequences: destruction of the environment, local earthquakes, water pollution, cancer, premature births, damage to the nervous and respiratory systems of people living near gas or oil wells, and disruption of bird migration routes [23]... During shale gas extraction, 4% of the methane released - a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2 - leaks into the atmosphere.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study of emissions from gas wells in Weld County, Colorado, found that the infrastructure used to extract the gas emitted the equivalent of 1 to 3 million cars.

Instalações de fraturamento hidráulico para extração do gás de xisto
“Hydraulic Fracking” by phxlaw1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/jp/?ref=openverse.

 Measures entirely financed by borrowing

Liz Truss’s package of support measures will cost the UK government £150 billion [24]; who will cover the difference between the market price charged by energy suppliers and the cost actually paid by consumers? This is more than double what was spent on short-time working during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The debt burden is rising and the £150 billion borrowed to finance the measures announced by Liz Truss will be paid back for years by the British taxpayers, who will pay not £150 billion but £195 billion

To finance this new spending, Liz Truss could have raised taxes on big business, on the country’s richest households, or taxed the windfall profits of big energy companies. Instead, she chose to base the energy price freeze (and the tax cuts for the richest) on debt. Debt that is becoming increasingly expensive for two reasons:

Interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. rates on UK bonds have reached their highest level for ten years. Thus, the debt burden is rising and the £150 billion borrowed to finance the measures announced by Liz Truss will be paid back for years by the British taxpayers, who will pay not £150 billion but £195 billion (£150 billion + 3% annual interest, if all bonds are issued over 10 years).

 In a few months’ time, the certain return of austerity policies will violently increase already abysmal inequalities

The £2.365 trillion public debt equivalent to 99.6% of GDP will provide the perfect excuse to disengage the state from the economy, privatize and further destroy redistribution mechanisms

Liz Truss’s initial measures, which are aimed at ’fiscal discipline,’ are adding considerably to the public deficit and public debt. We can therefore expect a violent return to austerity in the UK in the coming months and years. Indeed, Liz Truss’ Thatcherite legacy leaves no doubt as to what will happen next. The £2.365 trillion public debt equivalent to 99.6% of GDP [26] will provide the perfect excuse to disengage the state from the economy, privatize and further destroy redistribution mechanisms. Austerity mainly affects the poorest because it reduces social spending - family allowances, housing and disability benefits, social services, minimum social benefits - which are vital for a large part of the population. Austerity also attacks public services, which are a powerful factor in reducing inequalities because all have access to them. Unsurprisingly, the countries that have pursued drastic austerity policies are among the most unequal in the world. [27] The UK has already been among them for a long time. Marked by nearly 40 years of austerity, the country is the second most unequal among G7 countries, behind the US. [28]

Austerity policy will be all the more dangerous as the level of private debt in the UK is dramatic. With private debt equivalent to 322.8% of GDP in 2020, the risk of a private debt crisis in the country is real. However, by reducing the presence of the state in the economy, Liz Truss will transfer state-provided spending to struggling individuals, thereby increasing their overall needs and hence their debt levels. In a context of rising prices not offset by higher wages and social benefits, such a policy could cause private debt levels (especially consumer credit) to explode. Such a scenario could then provoke a private debt crisis that could cause bank failures and explode the state’s debt if the latter decided to save them, as it did in 2008-2009 following the subprime crisis.


Translation : Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle.

Footnotes

[1It is the members of the Conservative party who elected Liz Truss as their leader after Boris Johnson reseigned on 7 July 2022. It follows that becoming leader of the majority party in Parlement she automatically becomes UK Prime Minister..

[2[or “Truss and Kwarteng’s embarrassing U-turn,” Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/c8715aa6-03d7-4ddb-85ea-28df149dfbe8 October 3, 2022] “Royaume-Uni : le grand écart de Liz Truss”, Le Monde, 06/09/2022 (in French), https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2022/09/06/royaume-uni-le-grand-ecart-de-liz-truss_6140366_3232.html (in French)

[3Ibid.

[4The Trade Union Act de 2016 made a formal consultation compulsory with the presence of at least 50% of a union’s members to take strike action. Liz Truss wants to increase this quota.

[5[or Liz Truss pledges sweeping changes to UK trade union laws, Financial Times July 25, 2022 https://www.ft.com/content/deab4e48-b22d-4278-b31c-f018a534ddbc ]Marie Billon, « Au Royaume-Uni, la nouvelle première ministre Liz Truss face à la contestation sociale », Médiapart, 05/09/2022, https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/international/050922/au-royaume-uni-la-nouvelle-premiere-ministre-liz-truss-face-la-contestation-sociale (in French)

[6« Liz Truss et le gouvernement britannique reviennent sur la baisse d’impôt sur le revenu pour les plus riches », Le Monde, 03/10/2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2022/10/03/liz-truss-et-le-gouvernement-britannique-reviennent-sur-la-baisse-d-impot-sur-le-revenu-pour-les-plus-riches_6144160_3210.html (in French)

[7The Bank of England intervened by buying British bonds to limit the cost of British debt and halt the fall of the pound.

[8« Liz Truss assume ses baisses d’impôts « controversées » malgré le désaveu des marchés », France 24, 29/09/2022,https://www.france24.com/fr/info-en-continu/20220929-liz-truss-assume-ses-baisses-d-imp%C3%B4ts-controvers%C3%A9es-malgr%C3%A9-le-d%C3%A9savoeu-des-march%C3%A9s (in French)

[9« Londres annonce des mesures pour relancer sa croissance : gel des factures énergétiques, baisses d’impôts, dérégulation… », Le Monde, 23/09/2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2022/09/23/gel-des-factures-energetiques-baisses-d-impots-deregulation-londres-annonce-des-mesures-pour-relancer-sa-croissance_6142877_3210.html (in French) [or Kwarteng stands by tax cuts despite financial turmoil Financial Times, September 29, 2022 https://www.ft.com/content/87d16cce-aa0e-470d-9370-f952b36e5bc6#post-539cbbbc-3d6f-4190-9d2f-0a9c0425d966 ]

[10“Liz Truss says she wants to cut top rate of tax eventually and says she does trust Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor – as it happened”, The Guardian, 04/10/2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2022/oct/04/liz-truss-benefits-inflation-kwasi-kwarteng-conservative-party-conference-live-updates

[11« Liz Truss, nouvelle première ministre britannique, promet de sortir le Royaume-Uni de la « tempête » », Le Monde, 06/09/2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2022/09/06/liz-truss-promet-de-sortir-le-royaume-uni-de-la-tempete_6140456_3210.html (in French)

[12Marie Billon, art.cited.

[13Friday 16 September, nearly 189 000 signatures had been received.

[14« Royaume-Uni : Liz Truss annonce un gel des prix de l’énergie », Médiapart avec AFP, 08/09/2022, https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/fil-dactualites/080922/royaume-uni-liz-truss-annonce-un-gel-des-prix-de-l-energie (in French) also Liz Truss looks at UK energy price freeze to tackle spiralling bills Financial Times September 5, 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/419e662b-0f5d-4ec3-b38e-00c30983b810

[15A.G avec AFP, « Royaume-Uni : Liz Truss va annoncer un paquet d’aides massif pour soutenir l’économie », BFM TV, 08/09/2022, https://www.bfmtv.com/international/europe/angleterre/royaume-uni-liz-truss-va-annoncer-un-paquet-d-aides-massif-pour-soutenir-l-economie_AD-202209080022.html (in French)

[16« RU : Liz Truss annonce un gel des prix de l’énergie », art.cited. (in French)

[17Richard Partington, “Liz Truss’ energy and tax plan ‘will give richest families twice as much support’”, The Guardian, 13/09/2022, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/sep/13/liz-truss-energy-and-tax-plan-will-give-richest-families-twice-as-much-support

[18Peter Qalker, Rupert Neate, “Truss to push ahead with low-tax economy despite calls for caution”, The Guardian, 04/09/2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/sep/04/liz-truss-energy-prices-action-plan

[19Ibid.

[20« Royaume-Uni : Liz Truss annonce un gel des prix de l’énergie », art.cited (in French).

[21Alex Lawson, Jessica Elgot, “Liz Truss’s energy bailout : key points at a glance”, The Guardian, 08/09/2022, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/sep/08/liz-truss-energy-bills-plan-key-points

[22Adrien Pécout, « Pollution : les populations les plus riches sont les plus émettrices », Le Monde, 07/12/2021, https://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2021/12/07/pollution-les-populations-les-plus-riches-sont-les-plus-emettrices_6104988_3234.html (in French)

[23Yona Helaoua, « L’exploitation du gaz de schiste dévaste les États-Unis », Reporterre, 27/06/2019, https://reporterre.net/L-exploitation-du-gaz-de-schiste-devaste-les-Etats-Unis (in French) or Fracking likely to result in high emissions, July 25, 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190725102945.htm

[24“Royaume-Uni : Liz Truss annonce un gel des prix de l’énergie”, art.cited (in French).

[25A.G avec AFP, art.cited (in French).

[26March 2022, British Office for National Statistics.

[27Up to 25 million more Europeans at risk of poverty by 2025 if austerity drags on, https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/25-million-more-europeans-risk-poverty-2025-if-austerity-drags

[28Peter Qalker, Rupert Neate, op.cited.

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