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Austerity won’t be over until the Tories are booted out

THE latest report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirms what they and many other commentators, analysts and think tanks said immediately after Chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn Budget last October. 

In the words of the old adage, fine words butter no parsnips. It is one thing for this Tory government to declare that austerity is over.

It is quite another to match the Chancellor’s and Prime Minister’s fine words with deeds.

On almost every front of public spending except the armed forces and — arguably — the supposedly “ring-fenced” NHS, local authorities and other public bodies are continuing to cut back their spending in real terms.

Even where this is not immediately evident, or is concealed by real-life inflation, spending is failing to increase with need and too much of it is going into the coffers of private contractors through PFI and other marketisation devices.

In the past few days, for example, the Local Government Association has sounded the alarm about the impact of centrally imposed cuts on rural bus services. 

Many of these have already disappeared. The LGA fears than nearly half of those still remaining will go if Tory-run Whitehall continues to underfund the national “free bus pass scheme” which local councils are required to implement.

Refugee Action’s new report highlights the impact of cuts on programmes for English for Speakers of Other Languages which help to integrate overseas guests into our society.  

Last week, the all-party public accounts committee of MPs accused the Tory government of being in denial over the state of local council finances. 

As its report pointed out: “Over the last eight years, the government has cut the funding it gives to English local authorities by nearly half, while, at the same time, demand for critical council services has risen: housing is under strain with over a third more people homeless and adult and children social care are confronted with growing demand. 

“The rate of looked-after children, for example, is at a 25-year high. The cost of adult and children’s social care has forced many local authorities to reduce spending on services in other areas.”

Much the same is true in Scotland and Wales, where the central government annual block grants have failed to meet higher than average levels of social deprivation and spending need. 

Now the IFS estimates that Hammond will need to find another £11bn in this year’s Spending Review just to maintain public spending as a proportion of total national expenditure. 

The Chancellor should spend a little more of his time working out how to do this — perhaps by taxing the super-rich and corporate monopoly profits a bit more — and a little less on plotting with his big business chums how to frustrate Brexit and maintain Britain’s continuing subordination to EU single market rules.

Not the least of his concerns should be the huge hit to public servants’ living standards over the past 10 years. The government has admitted that teachers have lost £4,000 on average in real terms and our heroic firefighters have endured similar deprivations.

Are there many people deserving of higher incomes in a civilised society? The quicker we see a chancellor McDonnell in charge of Britain’s public finances, the sooner such a day will dawn.

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