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“End austerity? Me? But Brexit!” That’s what Philip Hammond would say.

The Conservative government could use £15 billion to end austerity policies after a surprise boost to the public finances – but you’d be a fool to think that will happen.

That’s the view of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, whose director Paul Johnson urged Philip Hammond to make good on the promises the Tories have been making for the past few months.

You see, it’s all very well saying austerity is over, but if the services the Tories have destroyed haven’t been restored, then it isn’t.

But even Mr Johnson admitted the Tories would be in a better position to boost public services if not for uncertainty over Brexit.

“There is a consensus that the economy would have been about 2 per cent bigger had the Brexit vote not occurred,” he said.

“In those circumstances the deficit would have been smaller still and the fiscal room for manoeuvre greater. The end of austerity could already have been rather more decisively with us.”

The IFS warned that the chancellor’s Spring Statement deferred crucial spending decisions in areas such as social care, public service funding and benefits which will put him under pressure to raise taxes further down the line.

The Treasury said on Wednesday that the “headroom” built up by the chancellor could go towards government priorities such as keeping tax low, reducing debt, public service spending and capital investment, so long as it is not soaked up coping with a no-deal Brexit.

Of course we should remember that George Osborne (remember him?) said on becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2010 that the public finances would be restored to health by 2015 – nearly four years ago.

We may reasonably conclude only one thing:

Tories will use any excuse to continue squeezing public spending – they’ve used a fictitious crisis in the public finances; they’re currently using Brexit. It will be something else in the future.

Source: Government has enough money to end austerity if it wants to, IFS report concludes | The Independent


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