If you’re the tax personality of the year, as David Gauke is, the pressure’s on when you give an interview to be as lively as possible. Gauke’s interview with the House magazine today doesn’t disappoint, with the Exchequer Secretary accusing those who oppose the child benefit cuts of ‘fiscal nimbyism’. He says:
‘I think there’s a lot of people who are in favour of reducing the deficit but then when it’s something that affects them there can be a degree of fiscal nimbyism. The reality is that every section of society is having to make a contribution.
‘We can’t pretend that there can be sections of society which we can completely protect from deficit reduction.’
‘Fiscal nimbyism’ is a lovely turn of phrase, but it is undermined by the government’s continuing desire to protect one section of society: wealthy pensioners. They really are the most ferocious nimbys when it comes to their winter fuel payments and free bus passes (Rachel Sylvester reminded readers in her column this week that Tony Blair described them as ‘rottweilers on speed’), and David Cameron is terrified of reneging on his ‘read my lips’ pre-election promise to safeguard their universal benefits. Gauke is coy on this issue in his interview, saying:
‘I think we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.’
But as the government is trying to cut a further £10 billion from the welfare budget, it will become increasingly difficult to talk about entitlement to housing benefit for young people and entitlement to child benefit for higher-income households and larger families without debating entitlement to the winter fuel payment. The Lib Dems are increasingly muttering about these benefits, arguing that they’ve had to break promises on tuition fees, so why shouldn’t the Conservatives do the same with universal benefits for wealthy pensioners? As the two parties start negotiating the next package of cuts, this will become a burning issue.