Stormont candidates act as if there is no such thing as debt

Morning View
Morning View

You would not have the slightest inkling of it from this Stormont election campaign, but Britain’s debt is rising ever upward.

Not only is it rising, we are making slow progress in cutting the rate at which it is rising.

It emerged yesterday that the Chancellor George Osborne had missed his borrowing targets for the year.

The Office for National Statistics said the budget deficit stood at £74 billion for the financial year ending in March, which was higher than the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast of borrowing to hit £72.2 billion for 2015/16.

The deficit has been cut by almost two thirds since Labour left office in 2010, so it is thanks to Mr Osborne, and to the Liberal Democrats who acquiesced in his politically difficult austerity programme, that we have got this far.

But even if the deficit is eliminated entirely, which now seems a long way off, the UK’s overall debt pile will stay the same and not fall at all.

Politicians across the spectrum have behaved irresponsibly. Even Iain Duncan Smith, who had done such important work in reforming welfare, has since flounced out of government and given ammunition to those who say that “Tory cuts” are an attack on the disabled.

In Northern Ireland, even the Ulster Unionist Party – the party that was allied to the Conservatives in 2010 – is too timid to embrace one of the essential first steps towards fiscal responsibility at Stormont, which is reintroducing prescription charges.

It is to the credit of the Alliance Party that it has been bold enough to back such a move and also to consider raising university fees to some degree.

But across the UK, and particularly in Northern Ireland, we have politicians who pretend to voters that money grows on trees. The end result is debt that means that future generations will not be able to live as we live now.