With borrowing up, growth negligible for the last two years and rising under-employment highlighting the fragility of the labour market, the economic outlook facing the Chancellor is bleak.
He stands on the brink of failing one of his golden fiscal rules – having debt fall as a proportion of GDP by 2015. The narrative up to now has been whether he can still meet this rule. But this ignores the far bigger issue that it is one of the main causes of the UK’s economic problems.
So rather than fudge the figures to appease the deficit hawks on his backbenches, the Chancellor should abandon his beloved fiscal target that he’s going to miss anyway.
This would mean no longer needing to make another £10bn raid on the welfare budget. Freezing and cutting benefits will life harder for families living – and working – in poverty. And the cuts will not help a single person back into work.
Most importantly, abandoning his self-defeating austerity targets will allow the Chancellor to start again with a fresh plan for growth.
This new plan should include a new State Investment Bank that can help fill the credit void left by our failing banking sector. The Chancellor could also reassert the government’s green credentials by giving the Green Investment Bank powers to borrow.
Capital spending cuts should be cancelled and replaced by more infrastructure investment. Modernising our transport network and energy needs can help deliver high-quality skilled jobs in the short-term and provide longer-term economic gains.
The Chancellor says that reducing the deficit is the biggest challenge the government faces. It is not. Preventing a lost decade of economic stagnation is our biggest challenge. And unless we tackle this by starting a new plan focused on generating jobs and growth we will never get to grips with the public finances.
Frances O’Grady is the TUC General Secretary Designate.