Having examined the announcements in the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Social Liberal Forum has released the following statement:
“The Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review contains a range of measures to reduce public spending, some of which the Social Liberal Forum welcomes. There are however some aspects of the Review that cause grave concern, as many of the proposed cuts will impact on the most vulnerable in society. Others risk deepening the lack of economic demand whilst expecting the private sector to fill the gap left by shrinking the state.
It is heartening to see policies that we as Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for being delivered: the Pupil Premium, the universality of most welfare payments, the creation of a Green Investment Bank, Regional Growth Funds and the protection of spending for schools, the NHS, international development and science. We are pleased to see the levy on banks made permanent and Trident not renewed. These are all to be welcomed as progressive policies designed to make Britain fairer and more prosperous. There can be no doubt that they are all the result of Liberal Democrats’ presence in government.
There remains a significant danger, however, that many of Chancellor George Osborne’s measures will disproportionately affect the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised in society – precisely those that depend on public services the most. The steep cuts to welfare payments – including withdrawing disability benefits after a year and the reforms to housing benefit – are in direct contradiction of the government’s rhetorical commitment to fairness.
Without rigorous, holistic impact assessments of the cuts, there is a serious risk that cuts in one service today may lead not only to greater spending elsewhere but also greater misery for those already under great duress – such an impact assessment will become more crucial as details of specific spending cuts emerge in the coming days.
The deep cuts to local government budgets, only partially mitigated by allowing authorities to raise bonds, will also mean an end to many vital services. As Liberal Democrats, we strongly oppose any reduction in the capacity of councils to provide for their local communities.
There is also a danger that as jobs are lost, tax receipts will fall and a second recession could ensue. The Social Liberal Forum therefore calls on the Government to revive demand in the private economy by investing directly in skills training and small business development, as outlined by the recent Liberal Democrat conference motion Fairness in a time of Austerity .
Finally, the SLF believes that reducing the deficit must not come at the expense of creating a fair and just society. We cannot support a package of measures that will widen the gap between the rich and the poor – and we fear that the CSR is likely to do that. Spending decisions taken today will shape both the economy and society for years to come. We remain unconvinced of the need to seek to reduce the bulk of the deficit within a single parliament. It is vital that Government carefully avoids cuts that hurt the vulnerable and focuses on rebalancing the economy to make it more diverse, sustainable and equitable.”