One of the things to look out for in today’s spending review is the number of spending pots that have suddenly become very relevant to the international development scene. A number of Secretaries of State for unprotected departments have worked out that the best way to save some of their budgets from being slashed is to count them as overseas development spending, which therefore means they don’t need cutting.
One of the reasons ministers are doing this is that the decision to continue with ring-fencing for politically important spending areas such as international development, pre-16 education and the NHS places a huge burden on the other unprotected departments. That’s quite obvious, but the lopsided nature of the state will become even more obvious today.
Some areas, such as social care, are impossible to classify as ‘overseas development’, though, and it is social care that Conservative MPs seem most worried about, as they fear that not only will the low levels of spending send many more angry people to their surgeries, but they will also send many more people into doctor’s surgeries and hospitals with acute ailments that have developed as a result of poor care at home. The NHS is getting more spending, while social care will not, even if the cuts to social care mean the NHS needs more money.
This will test ring-fencing, not the overall mission to cut back public spending, to the limits. And that Osborne has decided to stick with ring-fencing in the face of criticism from a number of different quarters shows that the Chancellor is not the ideological axeman his critics like to paint him as, but an intensely political man.