The Chancellor of the Exchequer is facing a dilemma ahead of the first full Autumn Budget later this month, with public support for austerity falling sharply but pressure to restore the public finances continuing, an event in Belfast heard today.
Deloitte presented the findings of The State of the State 2017-18 – its annual report with the think tank Reform on the state of public finances and the challenges facing public services – at a breakfast event at James Street South in Belfast today.
As part of State of the State, Deloitte commissioned Ipsos MORI to interview 1,071 UK citizens on their attitudes towards public spending, the impact of austerity on peoples’ lives and areas they feel should be protected from cuts.
It showed support for austerity has halved since the beginning of the decade. In a 2010 Ipsos MORI survey 54 per cent agreed with the need to cut public spending, falling to just 22 per cent in 2017 (11 per cent in Northern Ireland). A significant 80 per cent of respondents in Northern Ireland disagreed with the need to reduce spending to pay off debt.
Some 57 per cent of people do not want to see spending on public services reduced to pay off national debt, compared to 22 per cent who do. Similarly, 52 per cent of people would not accept less from the public services that are subjected to budget cuts to pay down debt, versus 20 per cent who would.
When asked to pick areas of public spending that should be protected from spending cuts, 80 per cent chose the NHS, 49 per cent chose education and schools and 32 per cent chose police. A third of respondents said they had personally been affected by spending cuts.
Jackie Henry, senior partner at Deloitte, said: “Aside from Brexit, the Northern Ireland public sector faces the same issues as its counterparts across the UK such as meeting increasing demand, public spending pressures and digital transformation. These issues will continue to remain secondary until the executive is restored and a clear path forward can be chartered.
“However, in the short term, the public’s changing attitude to the pressures on public finances mean the Chancellor Philip Hammond has a difficult balancing act on his hands in the first full Autumn Budget.”
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