Numbers Game, March 2017

3 Mar 17

Facts and figures from the March edition of Public Finance magazine on rising inflation, public support for greater health spending and the spike in rough sleeping

Quick wins

Floral notes: HMRC has spent at least £8,500 over three years sending flowers to customers to apologise for mistakes such as incorrect demands or incomplete rebates, The Times has reported. HMRC said a decision to send flowers depended on the effect of the error and the circumstances.

The hateful eight: just eight men hold the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, according to Oxfam research released to mark the Davos summit. Executive director Winnie Byanyima said this was “obscene” and blamed a broken economy that allowed the super-rich to dodge taxes.

Red carpet treatments: the Queen has hosted 109 state visits since ascending to the throne in 1952. Her first visitors were the king and queen of Sweden; most recently, she welcomed the president of Colombia. Controversy has been raging over a proposed state visit by new US president Donald Trump.


Inflation tracks back up

Inflation stat March mag 2017

Inflation is on the rise again and has reached its highest level since the summer of 2014, according to Office for National Statistics data.

In the year to December 2016, the consumer price index measure of inflation was 1.6%, driven by rises in air fares, food prices and petrol prices. This compared with a 1.2% rise in the year to November.

Despite the upward trend, inflation remains well below the peaks of more than 5% seen in 2008 and 2011. However, the Resolution Foundation think-tank cautioned that the age of ultra-low prices is “well and truly over” and predicted rising inflation was a “dead cert” for 2017.


Healthy support

Support for health tax stat March 2017

With NHS budgets under increased pressure, politicians may be heartened to know there is widespread public support for increases in taxation to help fund it.

More than half of people surveyed by YouGov said they would support increasing the basic rate of employees’ national insurance from 12% to 13% if the money raised went to the health service. Support for increasing the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 21% was less at 42%.


Remembering Dave

Cameron approval March 17 stat

Seven in 10 Conservative MPs think David Cameron will go down in history as either a good or a great prime minister according to a Populus poll.

Unsurprisingly, Labour MPs take quite a different view, with 70% saying he will be remembered as a bad prime minister, just 4% acknowledging him as good and none opting for great. Fewer than half (41%) of the MPs taking part in the survey overall say Cameron was a good or a great leader.

Cameron left the Commons last year shortly after the referendum he had called on Britain’s membership of the EU (which he supported) resulted in a vote to leave.


Rough sleeping doubles

Rough sleeping March 2017 stat

The number of rough sleepers in England has more than doubled since 2010, according to figures released by the Department for Communities & Local Government.

These show 4,134 people slept rough on any given night in 2015, 16% more than in the previous year. Whereas rough sleeping in London was up 3% on 2015, the number in the rest of England was up by 21%. Rough sleepers in London account for around a quarter of the English total.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: “The number of people sleeping on our streets continues to rise at an appalling rate. We need the government to take action.”


Does the cap fit?

Earnings cap March 2017 stat

There is little public enthusiasm for a cap on earnings, a policy recently floated by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, although some groups of voters are more in favour than others.

Overall, 44% of people polled by YouGov said it would be a bad idea to limit the amount anyone in Britain can earn, with 31% declaring it a good idea.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters are the most sceptical, with 59% of Tories and 46% of LibDems calling it a bad idea. Attitudes are most positive among Labour and SNP voters but more evenly balanced: while 39% of Labour voters think an earnings cap is a good idea, an identical proportion oppose it.


Stunted growth of Garden Bridge

The trust behind London’s Garden Bridge has said the scheme may be scrapped because of its weak financial health.

Costs have risen to £185m, yet no new private funding has been secured for almost two years. The bridge now needs to span a funding gap of £56m.

Trustees said they could no longer confirm it was a going concern. They warned of delays and suggested the project might no longer be viable.

The proposed bridge, which would cross the Thames from Temple station to the South Bank, had been scheduled to open in 2019. It has received £60m of taxpayers’ money from the Department for Transport and Transport for London.

Difficulties centre on securing land at each end of the bridge and a guarantee from London mayor Sadiq Khan to underwrite the predicted £3m annual running costs.

Despite this, trust chair Lord Mervyn David was upbeat. “We strongly believe we can progress all outstanding issues and we are determined to make the project happen,” he said.

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