Crabb to bury disability benefit cuts in Commons

After all that, the contentious reforms of Personal Independence Payments - the £1.3bn a year of cuts in disability benefit payments that prompted the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith - will be well and truly buried on Monday.

Stephen Crabb, Duncan Smith's successor as work and pensions secretary will say, in his debut statement to the Commons in his new role, that the current system for assessing the financial support required by disabled individuals will be retained.

The pledged reform - that so upset Duncan Smith and disability campaigners, especially since it came in a budget that cut taxes for the middle classes - will be annulled.

What some will regard as extraordinary is that Crabb will also signal that the Treasury has surrendered the habits of a lifetime and is not fussing that the u-turn leaves a £1.3bn hole in the budget.

Blimey? Why is the fiscally hair shirted Treasury suddenly so relaxed.

Well, the cut was not due to bite till 2017. And the proceeds of the cut were were not "scored" or factored in till the financial year beginning in April 2017.

So George Osborne, in an olive branch to his critics, is signalling that the Treasury will wait till the autumn to see whether that £1.3bn gap needs to be supplied by other welfare cuts, or indeed even by cuts to other departments.

In fact in a rare outbreak of Micawberism, he is also signalling that something may turn up, that the economy and public finances may - perhaps miraculously - improve before the Autumn Statement due in November or December.

And if the governments books do heal themselves of their own accord, there would be no need to fill the £1.3bn hole at all - because the hole will have filled itself in!

Which any economist will tell you is wholly plausible. But that kind of wait-and-see philosophy is typically an anathema to the guardians of the public purse at HMT.

All of which begs the obvious point, namely that if Osborne and the Treasury had been a bit more fiscally relaxed in this way before the budget, Duncan Smith would have been deprived of his moment to humiliate the chancellor and the prime minister.

Oh well, to quote one of the great laws of economics, tears and regrets over spilt milk are utterly fatuous.