CON-DEMS ON THIN ICE

By Daphne Liddle

TORY PARTY leader David Cameron is in deep trouble with his own supporters, with his Liberal-Democrat coalition partners and potentially in very serious economic trouble with no realistic plans for an economic recovery and a looming prospect of banks needing another bail-out in the near future.

Cameron had to appease angry Tory parents for cutting child benefit to high earners — and in a way that penalises stay-at-home mothers and undermines the Tory idealisation of the bourgeois nuclear family.

He has mentioned the possibility of a tax allowance for married couples. This would take the tax system back to the time before 1990 when, for tax purposes, a wife’s earnings were considered part of her husband’s income and had to be declared on a form that was invariably addressed to the husband.

And to make such a tax allowance payable to those who would lose child benefit, it would have to include high earners and end up costing the Treasury far more than would be gained by cutting the benefit.

The Lib-Dems have always opposed the scrapping of universal benefits, like child benefit and Cameron is now having to grovel and apologise for not mentioning the matter in the Tory manifesto.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, whose members administer benefits and taxes, said: “Child benefit is a universal right, paid to parents towards the cost of raising children. This is clearly the first step in removing universal rights and turning back the clock to the days of means-testing.

“Today it is child benefit, but tomorrow it will be means-testing for the state pension, winter fuel allowance, or free bus travel.”

Speaking for the Lib-Dems, Sir Menzies Campbell warned the ministers not to take to the “trenches” over the child benefit plans. He predicted “adjustments” will be made to plans to scrap the benefit for higher rate taxpayers.

He said the coalition had come together out of “necessity” and had “bet the farm” on getting the economy right.

Meanwhile, even before the public services massacre, the economy is slowing. The jobs market is growing much more slowly than usual at this time of year, according to the findings of a survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

The number of people appointed to permanent jobs in September also grew by its slowest pace in 12 months. That has affected pay, with wage inflation at a 10-month low.

Kevin Green, the REC’s chief executive, warned that the figures indicated the jobs market could be heading for its own “double dip”.

He said: “While there is growth, these figures are the worst we have seen for a year. The Government must do everything possible to avert the threat of increasing unemployment.”

According to the latest official unemployment figures, the jobless rate currently stands at 7.8 per cent, with 2.47 million people out of work.

Falling car sales also mark an approaching “double-dip”. Sales last month were down 8.9 per cent from September 2009, said the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). This follows August’s 17.5 per cent fall.

And last week the New Economics Foundation, a think-tank, warned that banks in Britain could need another bail-out in 2011, due to an emerging funding gap of £25 billion a month.

Banks currently borrow £12 billion-a-month, which will rise to £25 billion-a-month next year as Government-backed funding ends, the NEF said on Monday.

This vast “funding cliff” could force them to ask the state for aid, it warned. The London-based think tank also lamented a “shocking” lack of information on the expenditure of £1.2 trillion already spent by the public sector on bank bail-outs.

“The public have already paid for the failure of the banks twice, first by bailing them out, and then by suffering a program of drastic cuts to public services,” Tony Greenham at the NEF said. “We need urgent reform of the banking system to ensure the bailed-out banks are not allowed to repeat their failures.”

Tory Chancellor George Osborne responded by declaring there would be no second round of bail-outs for Britain’s banks.

The banks are ignoring him — as they have done every other western government. The total of bonuses due to be paid to Britain’s top bankers this year is due to exceed £7 billion.

Meanwhile globally $4 trillion debts still owed by banks from the giant crash two years ago are the “Achilles’ heel of the economic recovery”, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF predicts more taxpayer support is needed to ensure global financial stability despite the billions already pledged.