Box sets » October 2018

Measuring labour market slack
In the 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook we discussed how the unemployment rate – which had fallen to its lowest level since 1975 – may not necessarily give a complete picture of the extent of labour market slack. This box therefore looked at some other measures, some of which suggested there could be more spare capacity than was captured by the unemployment rate at that time and some of which could be used to argue that there was less.
In each Economic and fiscal outlook we publish a box that summarises the effects of the Government’s new policy measures on our economy forecast. These include the overall effect of the package of measures and any specific effects of individual measures that we deem to be sufficiently material to have wider indirect effects on the economy. In our October 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook, economy forecast adjustments included the effects of looser fiscal policy on GDP and inflation, the effects of capital allowances on business investment, the effects of tax policy changes on inflation and the effects of the extension of the Help to Buy scheme on the housing market.
Alongside the October 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook (EFO) the Government expressed its aspiration to end low pay, noting the definition used by the OECD, which corresponds to two-thirds of median earnings. This policy was not firm enough for us to incorporate into our central forecast. Nevertheless, in this box we drew on previous analysis from our July 2015 EFO – when the National Living Wage was first introduced – to illustrate the potential effect on the economy and public finances.
Household saving and debt
In our October 2018 forecast, the saving ratio – excluding pension contributions - was expected to turn negative, while unsecured debt was expected to rise steadily as a share of household income. In this box, we set out why this did not mean our growth forecast was dependent on a large and unsustainable increase in consumption, nor a significant expansion in consumer credit. Estimates of the saving ratio are subject to frequent revision, while only just over a third of unsecured debt relates to consumer credit, with a small and growing share made up by student loan debt. We also expect total interest payments on debt to remain subdued over the forecast period.
UK exports as a share of GDP
In August 2018 the Government announced an ambition to increase the UK's exports to 35 per cent of GDP. In this box we explored the drivers of previous changes in the exports-to-GDP ratio and how we expect it to change in our October 2018 forecast.

Economy categories: GDP by expenditure, Net trade

The financial settlement with the European Union: an update
In the March 2018 Economic and fiscal outlook (EFO) we set out in detail how we calculated the cost of the Government’s financial settlement with the EU. This box from our October 2018 EFO updated our estimate of the financial settlement’s cost and the reasons for the changes since March.

Cross-cutting categories: Brexit and the EU

Business rates retention pilots
The Government has been piloting full business rates retention since 2017-18. These pilots featured in our forecasts from March 2017. This box reconsidered and re-estimated the fiscal effects of the 100 per cent local retention pilots scheme.
Accounting for student loans
The accounting treatment applied to the burgeoning stock of student loans has been the subject of much interest over the past year, with reports from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee and the Office for National Statistics. In July, we published our own contribution in Working Paper No. 12: Student loans and fiscal illusions. In this box we analysed the possible impacts of different accounting treatments on our estimate of the deficit.

Fiscal categories: Financial transactions, Student loans

Cross-cutting categories: Classification changes

Student loan sales: the ‘value for money’ hurdle
We incorporate sales of financial assets in our forecasts when firm details are available that allow the effects to be quantified with reasonable accuracy and allocated to a specific year. In the case of the sale of student loans the government also considers whether a sale offers value for money. This box looked at the way in which the Government uses discount rates to evaluate value for money, how this does not mean the sales strengthen the public finances and whether future sales are likely to proceed.
Public sector net financial liabilities (PSNFL) is a wider measure of the balance sheet than public sector net debt (PSND) and includes all financial assets and liabilities recognised in the National Accounts. In this box we examined some of these differences and presented a projection of the components of PSNFL.

Fiscal categories: Public sector net debt

Cross-cutting categories: Financial interventions