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This Is The One Great Big Stonking Difference Between The Two Main Parties At This Election

Spoiler alert: This is pretty important.

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More precisely, they will introduce a law preventing themselves from raising income tax, National Insurance, or VAT.

At the same time, they will still keep their earlier promises to take everyone on the minimum wage out of income tax, by raising the personal allowance (the amount you earn before you have to pay tax) to £12,500 by 2020; increasing the threshold for paying the 40p rate of tax to £50,000; and lifting the threshold for inheritance tax to £1 million in line with inflation, to make sure you don't have to pay to inherit your family home (unless you live somewhere like this).

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We're all used to politicians making promises, but this is a pretty big statement. Here's why:

In fact, that gap – the deficit – is so large (at £90.2 billion) that it's equivalent to the budgets of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, Department for Education, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ combined.

Just to clarify, this is departmental budgets only – because spending is spread around a bit, this isn't the same as the bill for the entire defence or education system. Though on that score, the deficit is still as large as everything we're spending on defence plus transport plus half of what we spend on public order – or, more simply, to two thirds of the NHS budget.

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The Tories have promised to eliminate the deficit by 2017–18. But they've also now promised to freeze the three taxes that make up the bulk of the government's revenues.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the government's financial watchdog, estimates that he will need to take £51.2 billion out of the budget by 2018–19. The Financial Times has come up with this nifty game to show how hard that's going to be. (Also, if the government is legally banned from raising taxes, and the economy doesn't do well as it's hoping, its only option will be to cut even more deeply.)

For example, the NHS is fine – in fact, it's getting £8 billion a year above inflation. (Although that may not be enough to keep pace with the increasing number of elderly patients...) The schools budget is protected, as are overseas aid and the state pension – the "triple lock" means the state pension goes up by the highest of inflation, earnings, or a base rate of 2.5%.

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That means the cuts are going to have to come mostly from the budgets of the departments that aren't lucky enough to be protected – which have already been cut pretty heavily since 2010.

This chart shows what's happened over the past five years – a vast increase in spending on overseas aid and the Cabinet Office, benefits and the NHS holding steady, and the rest getting walloped to a greater or lesser extent.

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As well as raising taxes by about £12.2 billion, mostly on the rich.

As would spending on pretty much everything else apart from the stuff that's been ring-fenced.

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And if we don't like the answer, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

This post was updated to reflect the fact that the deficit figures related to departmental budgets rather than the entire cost of the various things being discussed.

Robert Colvile is UK News Director at BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Robert Colvile at robert.colvile@buzzfeed.com.

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