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A Budget that does nothing for the great mass of people worse off than five years ago

Where would George Osborne be without people on benefits?

How would his sums look if there were no public-sector workers? How would he cope without the millions who keep hearing about a recovery but fail to spot it in their lives or pay packets?

Yesterday the Chancellor made a good fist of presenting a failure as a triumph. His fifth Budget was supposed to be the moment when he announced victory over Britain's deficit.

That was the promise he made back in 2010. Instead, Mr Osborne resorted to his favourite cunning plan.

This is the plan that's "working", as the Chancellor repeats and repeats, when all the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) can report is that failure is less glaring than it was a year ago.

So the Coalition Government will have borrowed less than expected in the financial year just ending, but it will still have borrowed £108 billion.

So the national debt will not rise by as much as the OBR once predicted, but it will go on climbing at least until 2015-16, when it will peak (so the Government prays ) at a monumental 78.7% of GDP.

Mr Osborne's obsession is a technicality known as the structural deficit. In theory, this is the shortfall that remains when the economy is operating "normally".To achieve his dream of an absolute budget surplus, the Chancellor must eradicate this nuisance.

To that end, he made what sounded like a startling confession: "Faster growth alone will not balance the books". This might be because tax receipts have failed to recover. That, in turn, might have something to do with Mr Osborne's spending cuts. Undaunted, he means to persist.

If the Chancellor has his way, cuts will continue into the next parliament. Public-sector pay will continue to be "restrained". A cap will contain what Tories call the welfare budget.

That will cover every recipient save untouchable OAPs and those affected by "cyclical" unemployment. Public services will have to stagger on as best they can.

Mr Osborne isn't troubled. The Chancellor who gave a tax cut to the richest in society is still proud to announce that "the rich are making the biggest contribution to the reduction in the deficit because we are all in this together".

Yesterday, the statement was followed, with no irony, by harsh words on tax avoidance.

Mr Osborne said what all Chancellors say about the virtues of manufacturing, investment and exports. He did not, however, explain why corporate Britain has been sitting on cash mountains since the financial crisis. Instead, he doubled the investment allowance for business (to £500,000) and found a "£7 billion package" to cut energy bills for intensive industrial users.

Beyond that, the Chancellor lives in hope that the public will again begin to spend. As was previously announced, his attempts to turn a housing shortage into a housing bubble will continue until 2020 in the form of Help to Buy.

Small builders and self-builders will be aided. The borrowing that is bad for government is fine, it appears, for individuals, mostly because stamp duty has become important for Mr Osborne.

Pension reform in the name of savers falls into much the same category. The Chancellor wants to unleash the spending power locked up in pension pots by (admittedly disreputable) enforced annuity schemes. He'll pick up tax revenues in the process. The economy, so he hopes, will then be rejuvenated by an injection of liberated money.

All Chancellors have a political end in view, and Mr Osborne is more political than most. His sole gesture to the working poor yesterday was an increase - to £10,500 - in the starting threshold for income tax.

Whether this helps much in the context of lost credits and national insurance is open to question, but it keeps the Chancellor's Liberal Democrat partners happy.

Equally, a single new ISA with an annual limit of £15,000 and a "pensioner bond" with the promise of a tasty savings rates are reforms calculated, without a blush, to appeal to older Tory voters with a fair bit of free cash and leanings towards Ukip. But, as Ed Miliband was quick to point out, the great mass of people are worse off than they were five years ago.

The Chancellor is entitled to boast of his growth figures. Whether he was wise to say that the economy will only return to its pre-crash level later this year is another matter. Some might wonder what he's been up to. Others will know only too well.

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