The Social Liberal Forum is committed to ensuring the Liberal Democrats fight the 2015 General Election as an independent party. Given the necessity of agreeing Government spending plans and departmental budgets for the 2015-16 financial year, this will be challenging, and it is of particular importance that the Party develops and articulates policies addressing its approach to the deficit beyond 2016.
In advance of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, Conservatives have repeatedly expressed their desire to pursue further deficit reduction measures spanning this Parliament and the next through further drastic cuts to the welfare budget.
Liberal Democrats – supported by the Social Liberal Forum – have in return expressed the view that the books cannot be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable people, and that those who are most able to pay, should pay. However, in addressing spending plans for the remainder of this Parliament and beyond into 2015-16, support for welfare cuts has not been ruled out.
The Social Liberal Forum would not support a Government that takes regressive spending decisions, on the welfare budget in particular, that will go beyond the term of this Parliament. There is no basis for taking such decisions in Liberal Democrat policy, nor in the Coalition Agreement. With living standards already squeezed and with the considerable uncertainty associated with the introduction of the Universal Credit – a measure that needs to succeed and will inevitably have consequences that will require adjustment – it would be irresponsible for further such steps to be taken.
It is therefore up to the Government to produce an overall spending package that is functional, that will not further hold the economy back, and that is fair. Senior Liberal Democrats have always clearly stated that addressing a widening deficit through further spending cuts, not least those that harm the spending power of the poorest, would lead to an unacceptable downward spiral of low growth and higher deficits. If the state of the economy leaves the Coalition with a choice between investing in future growth by easing the deficit reduction programme and cutting support to the most vulnerable people in society, it can only choose the former.