Nicola Sturgeon urges Chancellor to slow pace of deficit reduction
Nicola Sturgeon has urged the UK Government to further slow the pace of deficit reduction in the forthcoming Autumn Statement.
Scotland's First Minister called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to take steps on November 23 to reverse cuts she said are hurting low income households and damaging public services.
Ms Sturgeon said the UK Government's austerity agenda has failed "categorically and comprehensively", and accused the Conservative Government of not offering people grounds for hope - a factor she suggested was one of the underlying reasons for the vote to leave the EU.
The SNP leader acknowledged that while Scotland voted to remain in the EU she is "acutely aware" that a million people had also voted to Leave, and said pursuing inclusive growth is "increasingly a political imperative".
Mr Hammond has already abandoned his predecessor George Osborne's plan to eliminate the deficit and achieve a surplus by 2020, and has indicated he will prioritise investment in infrastructure and housing through borrowing.
Speaking to an audience of 1,200 at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, Ms Sturgeon said that while the Brexit vote had many causes, people on low incomes were more likely to have voted Leave.
She said: "UK economic policy, arguably over several decades but particularly in recent years, has not given enough people enough grounds for hope.
"The current Government has already abandoned the deficit reduction targets it was elected on in 2015 - just as the previous government abandoned, in 2012, the deficit reduction targets it set itself in 2010.
"There's a good reason for that. The severity of government cuts has permanently reduced the productive capacity of the economy. As a result, cuts hindered, rather than helped, attempts to reduce Government debt.
"Austerity is a policy which has failed, categorically and comprehensively, on its own terms. It has also imposed needless hardship on individuals and families across the UK.
"Austerity hasn't just harmed our economy; it has damaged our society."
She added: " The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made one welcome change by abandoning the Government's balanced budget target.
"In two weeks' time, in the Autumn budget Statement, he should go further in slowing the pace of deficit reduction, allowing for the reversal of cuts which are hurting low-income households and damaging public services."
The speech follows a court ruling last week that the British P arliament must vote on the decision to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of taking Britain out of the EU.
The First Minister, who has called for the UK to retain its membership of the single market, said she does not believe there is a parliamentary majority for hard Brexit, adding: " In those circumstances - surely - single market membership is the obvious consensus position. That is a point which may well be made forcibly in Parliament, following last week's court judgment.
"Although a hard Brexit might appease some members of the UK Cabinet, it would damage trade, reduce employment and cause unnecessary hardship in communities across the country. It is economically undesirable and democratically unjustifiable."
The Scottish Government is currently investigating whether a separate settlement is possible for Scotland if the UK Government decides to take the rest of the country out of the single market.