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McDonnell: Austerity contributing to ‘national tragedy’

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell claims councils are feeling the ‘direct impact of austerity’.

The Tories are “blind” to the “pain and misery” caused by austerity, John McDonnell will claim ahead of Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement.

The shadow chancellor will highlight what he calls the “national tragedy” of lives ruined because of cuts to services and a rise in homelessness.

And he will say local authorities have lost almost 800,000 staff since 2010 as he seeks to put pressure on the Chancellor to provide extra cash for councils in next Tuesday’s statement.

Mr McDonnell will tell an audience in London that “whatever positive nuggets” there are in the official forecasts released alongside Mr Hammond’s statement “any boasting will be misplaced”.

“This is a Government still committed to the austerity spending cuts the Tories first announced in June 2010,” he will say.

“They seem absolutely blind to the economic evidence and the pain and misery they have caused.”

Some of those services we rely on in our everyday lives – from street sweeping to refuse collection – are stretched to breaking point John McDonnell

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have given Mr Hammond reason to be optimistic.

The deficit excluding banks for the current financial year – April 2017 to January 2018 – dropped by £7.2 billion to £37.7 billion compared to 12 months earlier.

And recent figures also showed a return to budget surplus on day-to-day spending, albeit three years later than former chancellor George Osborne intended.

Mr McDonnell will point out that growth was lower than any major economy and real wages are still falling.

“But these abstract national figures don’t show us the real impact of austerity and economic failure,” he will say.

“You can see it every day, here in London. It’s the stories of the misery and ruined lives that add up to a national tragedy.”

Mr McDonnell will claim schools “have to write begging letters to parents for pens and pencils” and children are being taken into care because councils cannot afford early intervention which might prevent that.

Referring to the death of a homeless man outside Parliament, he will say: “This is the sixth largest economy on the planet. It is an immensely wealthy society.

“London has more billionaires living here than any other city in Europe. And yet every night on the streets of this city there is another rough sleeper.”

Mr McDonnell, who has called for £2 billion by 2020 for councils to fund children’s services, will highlight the impact of cuts on town halls saying: “New figures show that local government has lost 795,000 staff since 2010.

“That’s the direct impact of austerity. It means understaffed services with overworked employees.

“It means some of those services we rely on in our everyday lives – from street sweeping to refuse collection – are stretched to breaking point.”

Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick said Labour would let debt get out of control (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/(Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)/PA)

Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick hit back, saying:  “Labour don’t know how to handle the economy and would let debt spiral out of control.

“That would put our economy at risk, mean higher taxes, and spending more on debt interest instead of public services.

“Our balanced approach means we can spend more on public services – councils will have £830 million extra next year – at the same time as dealing with our debts.

“Under the Conservatives people get better quality of public services and better value for money.”

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