MailOnline corrects ‘fiscal headroom’ headline

24 January 2024
What was claimed

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will have up to £10 billion in headroom in the Spring budget.

Our verdict

This is misleading. The £10 billion figure refers to comments made by an economist, who said the government’s fiscal headroom could plausibly increase by that much. The OBR has not yet published its Spring budget forecast.

“OBR forecasts Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will have up to £10bn headroom in Spring budget after Rishi Sunak hinted there will be ‘more to come’ on tax cuts later this year.”

An article published by MailOnline claimed that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast the chancellor will have up to £10 billion of headroom in the Spring budget “after Rishi Sunak hinted there will be ‘more to come’ on tax cuts later this year.”

This is misleading, and MailOnline corrected its headline after Full Fact got in touch.

As the article goes on to explain, the £10 billion figure is based on comments made by Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson about the amount by which the Treasury’s fiscal headroom—the amount of leeway it has to increase spending or reduce taxes while still meeting its own fiscal rules—could plausibly increase by ahead of the Spring budget. The OBR itself has not said this.

The Financial Times reports Mr Johnson: “said it was “plausible” that Hunt’s headroom against his fiscal rules—which commit to cutting debt as a share of GDP in the fifth year of the forecast—could rise by £10bn, but cautioned there were many moving parts.”

In its latest forecast, published in November last year, the OBR forecast that the government had £13 billion in fiscal headroom—so if this increased by £10 billion it would have around £23 billion in fiscal headroom, not a total of £10 billion as the Mail’s headline originally suggested.

The OBR has not yet published its Spring forecast, so we can’t say for certain how its assessment of the government’s fiscal headroom will change from November’s.

If headlines are inaccurate or don’t reflect the body of the article, it is possible that people will be misled as it may be the only part of an article that people read. Headline-writers should ensure headlines are accurate and support the body of the article. 

We’re grateful to the MailOnline for correcting its headline promptly.

Image courtesy of HM Treasury

Correction 26 January 2024

We’ve corrected this article to make clear that the misleading headline appeared in and was amended by MailOnline, not the Daily Mail.

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