We are blessed with a political class who simply won’t be straight with us about the nature and scale of the UK’s current public policy challenges. These challenges were underlined in a recent report by UK in a Changing Europe, from housing and living standards, to health and the climate.
Historically low growth, coupled with a significant increase in debt servicing costs means public spending will need to be kept in check simply in order to stop debt growing. Yet demographic pressures mean that even maintaining the quality of public services after a decade of austerity, will require greater spending. As the NHS struggles to recover post-pandemic, problems with the social care and community health systems mean the average length of hospital stays is now rising. Funding will need to go up by 3 per cent a year simply to keep up with demand and cost pressures. And that is without addressing long-term capital underinvestment.
Virtually everyone agrees these issues must be tackled. Growth must be the priority, net zero should be the aim, more must be done on inequality, and public services must improve.
To tackle them, we need to understand them and be honest about the trade-offs involved in doing so. Honest, for instance, about the implications of losing billions in revenue from fuel duties from widespread electric vehicle adoption – which is essential to net zero. Honest that reducing immigration will pose the question as to how we might pay for the extra training and increased wages that could make the health and care sectors less reliant on immigrant labour. Honest about the costs of HS2, not only to the taxpayer but about commitments to levelling up.
As for Brexit, while the Tories won’t talk about it, Labour suggests incremental adjustments to the status quo that will have only trivial macroeconomic consequences. Neither is willing to discuss the growing evidence of its negative impact on economic growth.
At a time when the country is confronting such huge challenges, it is more important than ever that politicians and the public are informed. UK in a Changing Europe exists to do just that, to provide clear and timely explanations of what is going on in the UK. Our network of leading social scientists are committed to providing accessible and impartial analyses that non-specialists can read and understand, and to challenging political leaders with evidence.
To learn more about us, go to our website at www.ukandeu.ac.uk