George Osborne’s dyscalculia

CHANCELLOR George Osborne made his autumn statement last week and once again revealed his serious problem with understanding numbers (dyscalculia).

The numbers he is having problems with include the current state of the economy, the falling living standards of millions of workers in Britain and the number of years we can keep on working before we die of exhaustion — and whether we are willing to go on paying into pension schemes until we drop and not live to get any return.

Osborne was overjoyed to be able to announce that the economy seems to be making a slight recovery, with figures just a little bit higher than predicted.

But this assessment fails to recognise that the alleged recovery is in fact a deliberately created housing bubble and is based on consumers going deeper into debt than ever just to get by.

The influential Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) felt obliged to warn us that “Higher UK growth forecasts “hide some more disappointing news for the chancellor”.

It says the increased forecast is just a result of growth coming a bit sooner than had been expected. And it said things like free school meals are unfunded after 2015.

Furthermore Osborne’s plans — to keep fuel duties static and create marriage allowances — will mean yet more cuts in public service spending that will accelerate from 2.3 per cent a year between 2011 and March 2016 to 3.7 per cent a year until early 2019. Will there be anything left to cut by then?

Paul Johnson of the IFS said: “There’s even more austerity than we’d expected because the Chancellor has decided he wants to continue for an additional year in order to get the books into surplus — he doesn’t need to do that for his own fiscal rules.”

Osborne also disputed the figures from the Office of National Statistics that showed the average household in Britain has suffered a £5,000 fall in spending money since the Con-Dem Coalition came to power. He said he would prove them wrong by devising his own formula but millions of people trying to budget their shopping every week know very well they are a lot poorer now than four years ago.

But one of Osborne’s most alarming announcements was that he plans to raise the retirement age, at which people may draw their state pension, to 68 in the mid-2030s and 69 in the late 2040s, linked to a formula that would take it to 70 by the late 2050s.

life expectancy

He claims this is based on rising life expectancy. Blinkered statisticians often make the mistake of assuming that because a trend has been going in a certain direction for a while it will continue to do so ad infinitum.

Life expectancy has increased by an average of a decade or so over the last century. But the causes of this longer life — state welfare, improved childcare, the NHS, balanced nutrition, shorter working hours — are now being dismantled by the Coalition. So soon we will see a return the life expectancy of the Victorian era before all these benefits were won by the workers.

That is if we don’t organise to throw our Osborne and his greedy one per cent chums first.

Life expectancy has always been linked to class, with the leisured upper classes living about 10 years longer than low paid workers. To expect manual workers, nurses, firefighters, road sweepers, refuse collectors and so on to keep on working into old age is to condemn them to die even earlier before they even see a sniff of the pensions they spend half a century paying into.

And even those in sedentary jobs rarely get to the current retirement age without some encounter with cancer, heart problems, blood pressure, diabetes, depression and so on. They may still be on their feet but their strength stamina for long working hours are gone.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “There has been no new evidence to show that people are living any longer since the last time the Chancellor increased the state pension age, yet today’s young workers are being told they must work until they drop.

“There are already massive inequalities in the state pension, with a woman in Corby expected to receive £67,000 less than someone in East Dorset due to widening gap in life expectancy. This pension divide will get worse as a result of today’s announcement.

“However many decades they work hard and contribute, tomorrow’s 69 year-olds will find themselves being sent for the future version of Atos assessments if they can no longer work. Barely half of all men are able to work beyond the current state pension age.”

“Raising it further will simply prolong an agonising limbo between their last job and their state pension.

“This has nothing to do with dealing with unexpected extra pension costs but is part of a long-term attack on the welfare state and the dismantling of our national insurance system.”

TUC research published last year found that disability and poor health are preventing nearly half a million people approaching retirement from working, a figure that will increase as the state pension age rises. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The chill wind of George Osborne’s statement will blast generations to come and put family budgets in the deep freeze as the cost of living crisis deepens.

“This chancellor is ‘King Con’. His ‘responsible’ recovery is nothing of the sort. Turbocharged by crippling levels of personal debt, it fills the wallets of the wealthy while food bank use soars.”