This blog might seem a bit pedantic. But at a time where financial and economic literacy has never been so important, I think it is necessary.
So, remember how last year we pointed out that there was huge confusion between debt and deficit? We carried out polling which showed just 10% of the public realised (correctly) the national debt was going to increase by around £600 billion this Parliament. 47% of those surveyed actually thought the government was reducing the debt by the same amount. We even produced a little cartoon to explain the findings:
Then knowledge appeared to deteriorate further. In December, ITV polled the same question, and the numbers actually got worse! Just 6% of the public seemed to realise the Coalition planned for the debt to continue ballooning, while 49% thought they planned to reduce it.
We attributed at least part of the blame for this ignorance to politicians themselves. As our video shows, they have at times been keen to talk about 'paying down the country's debts' even though debt continues to rise.
Thankfully, since we and others publically rebuked them for doing this, the tendency seems to have stopped.
BUT...now there appears to be a new, slightly misleading use of language by our political friends.
Yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported a Total Politics magazine interview in which the Prime Minister had spoken of "paying down the deficit". I subsequently found that this is a line which has also been used by both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister in January of this year. In fact, it was being used by the PM as early as 2011.
Whilst perhaps not as misleading as "paying off the country's debts", use of the phrase above is disingenuous at best. It is impossible to “pay down a deficit” – you can reduce it of course but not “pay it down”. But what the phrase does in the public mind is a create an image of a prudent government setting aside funds to pay off some of its previous borrowing. Of course, what is happening in reality is the government is just borrowing less than it was in 2009/10.
The phrase is thus a rhetorical device which could exploit the sort of confusion about the difference between debt and deficit which led to the shocking survey results reported above.
We need to continue to have an open and honest debate about the public finances - as such, we'd all benefit from politicians ceasing to use this sort of misleading rhetoric.