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Philip Hammond had no right to be so cheerful in his Spring Statement

For the first time in modern history, economic growth is forecast to fall below 2 per cent in every year. 

Philip Hammond, a Chancellor who Theresa May hoped to have sacked by now, was determined to resonate optimism in his Spring Statement. “Any Eeyores in the chamber are over there”, he declared, gesturing towards the Labour benches. “I am positively Tigger-like.”

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility, it is true, increased its GDP growth forecast for 2018 (from 1.4 per cent to 1.5 per cent) and revised down government borrowing (from 2.4 per cent of GDP to 2.2 per cent). But this was the most modest of improvements. For the first time in modern history, economic growth is expected to fall below 2 per cent in every forecast year (1.3 per cent in 2019, 1.3 per cent in 2020, 1.4 per cent in 2021 and 1.5 per cent in 2022). Indeed, growth in the final two years has been revised down. The UK will remain one of the slowest-growing G7 economies. And as OBR head Robert Chote told me earlier this year, Britain's anaemic performance can be partly attributed to the government’s austerity programme and Brexit.

Though Hammond declared that “forecasts are there to be beaten”, he knows that the strain EU withdrawal will impose on the economy and the risk of a new recession (overdue by historic standards) means the projections may yet prove too optimistic.

The Chancellor might have cause for cheer (having kept his job) but the country does not. Average wages are not forecast to return to their pre-crisis peak until 2025 (17 years later). The Spring Statement did not, as some headlines have proclaimed, herald “the end of austerity”. Working age benefits have again been frozen this year and government departments continue to endure spending cuts or meagre increases. Austerity’s social costs are visible to all in homelessness (up 169 per cent since 2010), rising crime, overburdened schools and hospitals, unrepaired roads, uncollected bins and closed libraries and children’s centres.

There is “light at the end of the tunnel,” insisted Hammond, deploying the cliche beloved of Conservative chancellors. But for too many, the light is not merely dim but invisible.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.