Former Chancellor Lord Hammond has said the government must risk unpopularity and tell “some difficult home truths” about the state of the economy.
He told the BBC that dealing with the pandemic had been the financial equivalent of “fighting a war”.
But giving money away was easier than collecting it for “a populist government”, he added.
A Treasury spokesman said Chancellor Rishi Sunak “will be honest with the British people” about what is needed.
Next week’s Budget comes amid rising unemployment and follows the biggest UK annual economic shrinkage on record.
In an interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Lord Hammond – who resigned as chancellor when Boris Johnson became prime minister in 2019 – said the economy had taken a “huge hit” from Covid-19, but should “bounce back”.
There had been “long-term scarring”, with sectors like aviation and hospitality suffering “permanent damage”, and transport and retail “changed forever”, he added.
Official figures show the UK economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020 – more than twice as much as in any previous year on record.
On Tuesday, it was revealed unemployment had risen to 5.1% in the three months to December – the worst rate since 2015.
And the national debt – worsened by furlough, other pandemic help schemes and falling tax takes – stands at more than £2 trillion.
Lord Hammond said it was unlikely in the “foreseeable future” that ministers would be able to “do anything that will actually see the debt starting to fall”.
“But what matters is not the absolute size of the debt, but the size of the debt relative to our economy,” he said.
“If we can grow the British economy over the coming years, then just as we did after the Second World War, we can make the debt fade in significance, because, although it stays the same in absolute terms, it becomes a much smaller percentage of our national economy.”
Philip Hammond has never been Boris Johnson’s number one fan, to put it mildly.
They clashed on Brexit, with the former chancellor being booted out of Parliamentary Conservative Party during the wild political autumn of 2019.
But even though he is back in the party fold, and with the ermine of a Tory member of the House of Lords no less, the former occupant of No 11 isn’t mincing his words.
While he sticks to the broad consensus backing the government’s massive emergency economic support during the pandemic, Lord Hammond looks very pointedly to the challenges that will come next, questioning whether Downing Street will have the right priorities.
His not very subtle implication: Downing Street would rather be popular than do the right thing.
Lord Hammond said the challenge facing the government was “how to move out of this crisis period”.
He praised Mr Sunak for getting the economic response right so far and said he was “very confident” his instincts were “the right ones”.
But he said his fear was “that as a populist government, giving money away is always easier than collecting it in”, and warned that ministers had “made very extravagant commitments to the British electorate in good faith before the coronavirus crisis”.
“Not all of those commitments can now sensibly be delivered on and that’s going to be a big challenge for a government that regards its short-term popularity as very, very important,” Lord Hammond added.
He said he was “not sure” the current “top leadership” had the “appetite for being unpopular, in order to do the right thing”.
The prime minister has said the chancellor will set out the government’s plans to “build back better” in next Wednesday’s Budget.
Mr Sunak has promised to lay out the “support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery”, adding: “I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy.”
Responding to Lord Hammond’s comments, a Treasury spokesman said: “The chancellor has always put protecting jobs and livelihoods at the heart of everything he has done and that will not change.”This Budget will give people the reassurance they need in the immediate term, and he will be honest with the British people about how we are going to recover beyond this crisis.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “not the time” for tax increases for individuals or businesses, given the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
‘We need some help now’
James Green, who runs the Whitstable Oyster Company in Kent, says the impact of the pandemic has been “tough”.
“Obviously there’s Covid-19 at the beginning of the year, which affected us, the restaurant side of the business and the oyster sales. We were open over the summer. We were busy, like most coastal places, and then we shut again in November.”
But Mr Green adds: “For the oyster side of the business the impact of Brexit is probably had more of an effect than Covid-19, I would say.”
As a result of Britain leaving the single market, he says he has tons of oysters sitting on his farm that he cannot sell either to France or domestically.
Mr Green says the chancellor should give the shellfish industry “some help to get us through now – otherwise there won’t be one”.
UK's Johnson expects steady recovery for economy this year – Financial Post
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain’s economy would show a steady recovery this year albeit with “bumps on the road” after the country posted a strong increase in the number of employees on company payrolls in June.
“You’re seeing the job numbers increasing and I think the rest of this year there will still be bumps on the road but I think you’ll see a story of steady economic recovery,” Johnson told LBC radio on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton, writing by Elizabeth Piper Editing by William Schomberg)
Fed Considers Tapering Bond Purchases as Economy Grows – The New York Times
Federal Reserve officials are gathering in Washington this week with monetary policy still set to emergency mode, even as the economy rebounds and inflation accelerates.
Economists expect the central bank’s postmeeting statement at 2 p.m. Wednesday to leave policy unchanged, but investors will keenly watch a subsequent news conference with the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, for any hints at when — and how — officials might begin to pull back their economic support.
That’s because Fed policymakers are debating their plans for future “tapering,” the widely used term for slowing down monthly purchases of government-backed debt. The bond purchases are meant to keep money chugging through the economy by encouraging lending and spending, and slowing them would be the first step in moving policy toward a more normal setting.
Big and often conflicting considerations loom over the taper debate. Inflation has picked up more sharply than many Fed officials expected. Those price pressures are expected to fade, but the risk that they will linger is a source of discomfort, ramping up the urgency to create some sort of exit plan. At the same time, the job market is far from healed, and the surging Delta coronavirus variant means that the pandemic remains a real risk. Policy missteps could prove costly.
Here are a few key things to know about the bond-buying, and key details that Wall Street will be watching:
The Fed is buying $120 billion in government backed bonds each month — $80 billion in Treasury debt and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities.
Economists mostly expect the central bank to announce plans to slow those purchases this year, perhaps as soon as August, before actually dialing them back late this year or early next. That slowdown is what Wall Street refers to as a “taper.”
There’s a hot debate among policymakers about how that taper should play out. Some officials think the Fed should slow mortgage debt buying first because the housing market is booming. Others have said mortgage security buying has little special effect on the housing market. They have hinted or said they would favor tapering both types of purchases at the same speed.
The Fed is moving cautiously, and for a reason: Back in 2013, markets convulsed when investors realized that a similar bond-buying program after the financial crisis would slow soon. Mr. Powell and crew do not want to stage a rerun.
Bond-buying is just one of the Fed’s policy tools, and is used to lower longer-term interest rates and to get money chugging around the economy. The Fed also sets a policy interest rate, the federal funds rate, to keep borrowing costs low. It has been near zero since March 2020.
Central bankers have been clear that tapering off bond purchases is the first step toward moving policy away from an emergency setting. Increases in the funds rate remain off in the distant future.
IMF warns of growing poverty, unrest and geopolitical tensions – Al Jazeera English
The global economic recovery continues, but with a widening gap between advanced economies and many emerging market and developing economies thanks to vaccine inequity and a lack of fiscal support, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned on Tuesday
While the latest update to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook sees the global economy still growing 6 percent this year – unchanged from its April estimate – Chief Economist Gita Gopinath noted that the composition of the recovery continues to change.
“The recovery is not assured until the pandemic is beaten back globally,” Gopinath told reporters during a virtual press conference as she presented the latest outlook titled Fault Lines Widen in the Global Economy.
The IMF sees global growth decelerating to 4.9 percent next year. Advanced economies are expected to achieve 4.4 percent growth in 2022 – down from 5.6 percent in 2021 – while growth in emerging and developing economies is seen slowing to 5.2 percent in 2022 from an expected rebound 6.3 percent in 2021.
Rich, emerging and developing nations all took an economic beating last year when the coronavirus pandemic forced governments to close borders, shut businesses and idle manufacturing hubs worldwide.
As countries rolled back COVID restrictions this year, growth forecasts jumped as people emerged from lockdowns and unleashed pent-up demand for products and services. That demand surge though is expected to moderate next year.
Developed economies armed and shielded with a healthy supply of COVID-19 vaccines and fiscal firepower have managed to open up businesses and resume operations. But the emergence of new COVID variants and infection spikes laces uncertainty into the recovery path.
Growth in the US, the world’s largest economy, is seen slowing to 4.9 percent in 2022 after a bounce back of 7.0 percent expected this year. Europe is also expected to slow to 4.3 percent in 2022 from 4.6 in 2021.
Growth in the Middle East and Central Asia is expected to decelerate to 3.7 percent next year from 4.0 in 2021, while emerging and developing Asian economies are expected to dip more than a point from 7.5 in 2021 to 6.4 in 2022.
Latin America and the Caribbean are forecast to experience the sharpest fall from 5.8 percent in 2021 to 3.2 in 2022 after plummeting 7.0 in 2020.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that is expected to see growth climb – from 3.4 in 2021 to 4.1 percent in 2022.
Vaccines & trillions in fiscal support
Vaccine inequality is seen as a chief driver of the widening gulf between recoveries in developed and less developed economies.
Close to 40 percent of people in advanced economies have been fully vaccinated compared with only 11 percent in emerging market economies and a tiny fraction in low-income developing countries.
Fresh waves of COVID-19 cases this year, notably in India are a major source of the deepening inequality between rich and poor nations.
“The emergence of highly infectious virus variants could derail the recovery and wipe out four and a half trillion dollars cumulatively from global GDP by 2025,” Gopinath warned.
To make matters worse, poor countries and even emerging markets lack access to the funds necessary to jolt economies back to health. Advanced economies, on the other hand, passed $4.6 trillion in fiscal support for 2021 and beyond. In developing economies, most measures expired last year.
And some emerging markets like Brazil, Hungary, Mexico, Russia and Turkey have also started raising interest rates to contain soaring inflation triggered by supply chain bottlenecks as economies reopen. Higher interest rates cool economic growth.
“A worsening pandemic and tightening financial conditions would inflict a double blow to emerging markets and developing economies and severely set back their recoveries,” Gopinath warned.
Inflation & action
A significant portion of the “abnormally high inflation” readings is transitory, resulting from the pandemic’s hit to vital parts of the economy such as travel and hospitality, and from a comparison with last year’s abnormally low readings, Gopinath said.
The IMF forecasts inflation to remain elevated next year. In emerging markets and developing economies food price pressures and currency depreciation will continue to create yet another worrying disparity in economic recovery.
Major central banks must clearly communicate their outlook for monetary policy and ensure that inflation fears do not trigger rapid tightening of financial conditions, the IMF stressed.
The Fund’s proposal to end the pandemic, endorsed by the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, sets a goal of vaccinating at least 40 percent of all people in every country by the end of 2021 and 60 percent by the middle of 2022.
The IMF urges at least 1 billion vaccine doses to be shared in 2021 by countries with more than enough of them and calls on manufacturers to prioritise deliveries to low and lower-middle-income countries.
The fund said its allocation of some $650bn worth of its reserve currency, known as Special Drawing Rights, should be completed quickly to help countries in need fund their spending needs. Greater action is also needed to ensure the G-20 successfully delivers on debt restructuring for countries where debt has ballooned and become unsustainable, said the IMF.
Gopinath further urged countries to focus more on reducing carbon emissions and slowing the rise in global temperatures to avoid yet another human and financial catastrophe. As it stands now, only 18 percent of recovery spending has been on low carbon activities.
“Concerted policy actions…can make the difference between a future where all economies experience durable recoveries or one where divergences intensify, the poor get poorer and social unrest and geopolitical tensions grow,” she said.
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