Today’s Autumn Statement of tax hikes, giving the U.K. the highest tax burden in 70 years (at 35.5% of GDP), is a direct consequence of the disastrous decisions taken during the pandemic to borrow and spend so much on lockdowns and other measures, the Telegraph has said in a leading article today.
This time last year, the country was still in the grip of a Covid pandemic panic. Despite the vaccination of much of the country, a surge in cases and a rise in hospitalisations caused by new variants led to the reimposition of mask wearing and other controls. At one point, it appeared that Christmas would be cancelled again until the Cabinet pushed back against scientific pressure for a new lockdown.
Rishi Sunak, then chancellor of the Exchequer, was among the strongest voices opposing further mandatory restrictions because of the impact on the public finances. But even so the Treasury had to dig deep into the national coffers again.
A year ago, Mr. Sunak may have had his doubts about the wisdom of yet more spending but he had already presided over the biggest peacetime accumulation of debt, ostensibly to sustain the economy through the pandemic shock. His difficulty now that he is in No 10 is that the bills must be paid. Today’s Autumn Statement, likely to be the most painful fiscal retrenchment for decades, is at least in part the consequence of a series of wrong decisions that has left the U.K. in a worse position than most other similar countries.
The war in Ukraine and its knock-on effects on energy and inflation add to the woes, the Telegraph says. “But the real context for his statement and for the country’s – and the world’s – economic woes is the pandemic and specifically the lockdowns it engendered.”
Ministers became “excessively cautious when it became clear that the risk to the wider population was smaller than feared” and “this continued even after vaccines were available”.
The goal of protecting the NHS was misplaced as it was “operating at well under capacity throughout”.
Yet now the growing backlog of routine treatments is “hindering the economic recovery because so many are off work” while “much younger people are dying as a result of late diagnoses of conditions that might have been treatable had they been caught earlier”. With excess deaths running high despite the expected mortality displacement of the pandemic, the aim of protecting the NHS has “engineered a health crisis whose long-term impact will be greater than Covid”.
Some attempt should have been made to “carry out a cost-benefit analysis of lockdowns”, the Telegraph says, as “no Government had ever planned for putting the economy into a coma and then expecting it to wake up raring to go”.
Yet the opposition would have “locked down for longer and borrowed more” so has no grounds to criticise.
Today’s Autumn Statement is thus the “reckoning” for lockdowns, the Telegraph says.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Isabel Oakeshott made the same point on TalkTV earlier.