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Give and Take?

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GEORGE OSBORNE
PA

When is an announcement not an announcement? When they take it back...

No, I'm not referring to an oblique Christmas cracker joke, but rather to a detail buried in the supporting Treasury documents underpinning the Chancellor's Autumn Statement last week. Here's the sentence in full: "The Government will not go ahead with the planned £110 above inflation increase to the child element of the Child Tax Credit."

Yes, that's right folks, previously-promised cash for low income families - or rather, for the children in those families - was being withdrawn before it had ever been paid. And it hadn't been pledged through just any old promises. These were pledges made consecutively in the June 2010 Emergency Budget and the October 2010 Spending Review, explicitly to support low income families and to prevent further rises in rates of child poverty.

Unsurprisingly, the government was quite happy to take the credit (twice) for those pledges at the time they were made. Here's the Chancellor in his Spending Review statement to the House of Commons:

"We want to ensure that low income families with children are protected from the adverse effect from these essential savings [other measures to reduce tax credits]. Because this Government is committed to ending child poverty. I can announce today that I am increasing the child element of the Child Tax Credit by a further...£50 in 2012-13 above indexation. This will mean [an] annual increase of...£110 above the level promised by the last government. This will provide support to 4 million lower income families - and I can confirm that using the same model we inherited, the Spending Review has no measurable impact on child poverty over the next two years."

A year later and that much-vaunted £110 has disappeared in front of our eyes, leaving families already struggling in the current economic environment staring into an even bleaker 2012.

Clearly there are instances when a 'government u-turn' signals a welcome concession to concerns highlighted and campaigns made - for example the ministerial statement last week that the Disability Living Allowance mobility element for people living in care homes will not be withdrawn after all, as had originally been proposed by the government. But in cases such as the £110 child tax credit withdrawal, we're not talking about reneging on a previous government's promises, but on its own promises made just over a year ago.

Are memories in politics really so short? Or does this mean the government no longer wants to ensure that low income families with children are protected from the adverse effect of other economic measures, or indeed that it is no longer committed to ending child poverty? (There is certainly a debate starting to rage about this latter point).

Whatever the truth, it is low income families who will feel the pinch from the government pulling the rug out from under them. Happy Christmas from the Chancellor.