New polling reported in the Financial Times shows public enthusiasm for austerity waning. After four years of assurances that Osborne’s axe-wielding would be necessary to bring the public finances back under heel, the failure of his programme is becoming apparent. The Chancellor expected the budget deficit this year to be £40bn, but it’s actually closer to £100bn, having risen by 10% in the last year.
It takes a special kind of genius to introduce the biggest programme of public spending cuts for generations and still end up with an increasing government deficit. But the problem is very largely of the government’s own making. Because spending cuts delayed the recovery, and because the recovery has not yet turned into rising incomes for most people, the government is not getting the taxes paid it expected to receive.
Wages and salaries have been falling for six years, the longest period of decline in workers’ living standards since at least the 1850s, when official figures start – and perhaps the worst in history. But if people are being paid less, they, in turn, pay less tax. And if the government is getting less tax than it expected, the gap between what it spends and what it receives in taxes (the deficit) will widen – even with spending cuts.
Five years of pain have been entirely worthless. We’ve slashed public services, driven hundreds to suicide, caused immense hardship and misery: and we have nothing to show for it. It’s no wonder that the FT report nearly 60% don’t want to see any further public spending cuts.
Yet on the government’s own figures, we are barely halfway through the cuts programme. There is at least another £56bn to be wrenched out of public spending. And all the main parties, including, shamefully, Labour, are signed up to it. Whichever party (or parties) win the next election, austerity will continue.
The stage is set for an almighty confrontation, between the people and the powerful. We’ll need the People’s Assembly more than ever in the years to come.
Join the protest ahead of Osborne's Autumn Statement:
Austerity has failed - sack George Osborne
From 5:30pm, Tuesday 2 December
Downing Street, London