'Budget decisions must not harm most vulnerable', insists Sturgeon

The First Minister has raised concerns ahead of the Autumn Statement.

‘Budget decisions must not harm most vulnerable’, insists Nicola Sturgeon Flickr

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that decisions taken in the Autumn Budget must not harm the most vulnerable people.

The First Minister raised her concerns ahead of chancellor Jeremy Hunt setting out the UK Government’s spending plans on November 17.

Hunt will make the fiscal statement in the House of Commons and outline to MPs how he intends to reduce the country’s budget deficit.

The deficit is predicted to have risen to around £50bn following the previous estimate of just short of £44bn at the end of June, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

Speaking at the British-Irish Council summit in Blackpool, Sturgeon underlined the difficult financial position that the UK currently finds itself in.

She also welcomed the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Hunt ahead of the spending plans being set out.

“The Autumn Statement is a massive event for every part of the United Kingdom next week,” she said at a press conference at the summit.

“We are in an incredibly difficult financial, fiscal, economic situation, and there are difficult decisions undoubtedly that the chancellor faces.

“I welcomed the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Prime Minister and indeed with the chancellor.”

She continued: “My view, the Scottish Government’s view, is that these decisions must be taken in a way that help, not further harm, those who are most vulnerable in our society.

“For example, ensuring that benefits increase in line with inflation is essential to avoid further widening of the inequality gap and erosion of the incomes of those at the bottom.

“Continuing to help as many people as much as possible with the significantly elevated cost of energy right now is important.

“And so too is protecting, as far as possible, public services that are already dealing with the impact of Covid and still in many ways dealing with the legacy of the years of austerity sparked by the financial crash.”

Sturgeon explained that she had discussed with the Prime Minister her “profound” concern about the pressures on the NHS in all parts of the UK.

She said: “The management of the NHS is a devolved matter for the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government too, but our ability to fund it depends very much on the decisions being taken at UK Government level.

“The NHS is under significant pressure right now and it needs a significant injection of resource to ensure that we can avoid industrial action in the NHS, but also put it on a sustainable footing that allows us then to progress with essential reforms in how we redesign the delivery of care.”

The First Minister met with Sunak on Thursday, the first time that a prime minister has attended the forum since Gordon Brown in 2007.

“These British-Irish Council sessions are a good opportunity for us to share experiences, share best practice, learn from each other, but have open and frank discussions about the challenges that we are facing,” Sturgeon added.

The Chancellor said on Friday he will be working to make a possible recession “shallower and quicker” in his highly anticipated autumn budget, which he will unveil on Thursday.

Hunt warned of a “tough road ahead” for the UK, with GDP contracting by 0.2%.

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