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Economy and policy

Cutting to growth: reflections on the Autumn Statement

Against the backdrop of the Autumn Statement, Caron Bradshaw OBE, Chief Executive, CFG, challenges the view that the government must cut its way to growth and prosperity.

The guy in my local post office used to love to wear a t-shirt with ‘I’m always in the crap, it’s only the depth that varies’. It made a few of us chuckle.

But it probably says something that his face and that t-shirt came to mind when I sat listening to the Autumn Statement last week. "It could have been worse" felt the most positive pronouncement I could make - a damning indictment.

It is true that some of what we asked for as a sector was listened to:

The increasing of benefits in line with inflation was to be welcomed (although many people will struggle between now and April 2023).

The work being done to clarify how energy relief will apply for charities, and the commitment to return to international spending as a proportion of GDP in the future were reasonably, if not completely, aligned with our asks.

But I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach which wouldn’t go away.

If the last two years have taught me nothing else, it has been to become comfortable with discomfort – and boy is that being tested!

The story that has been told, across the political spectrum, and reinforced by most of the media, is that there is no choice but to pursue an agenda that brings down public borrowing and bridges the ‘black hole’ in the country’s finances.

‘We must balance the books!’ they cry, whilst drawing comparisons between household budgets and those of the country. It’s unhealthy and there is no comparison between the two.

This serves to draw the average person to a conclusion that the obvious and only answer is tightening our belts, when the reality is quite different.

These are political choices and ones that are being accepted by both leading parties.

As financial journalist Andy Verity recently pointed out, there are only six occasions during the past 50 years where that balance has been struck.

Yet, it has never felt more uncomfortable than now, even when reflecting on past periods of economic turmoil.

The narratives themselves are all too familiar:

We simply cannot continue to live beyond our means. This is the moment to strike that balance.

The global economic reality has robbed those in power of any alternative but to act to balance the books.

This has become a staple part of the commentary across multiple channels, all while we face into the greatest economic crisis perhaps in living memory.

Even as someone running an organisation with tough choices to make as we try to recover from the Covid hangover, I cannot bring myself to agree with the prevailing narrative.

And as a leader of an organisation that stands for excellence in financial management and leadership, I recognise that that is a risky statement to make.


But there is a message we regularly give when we speak of inspiring financial leadership and that is that the budget tail should not wag the charity dog.

This pursuit of a balanced book narrative is just that. It sacrifices the most disadvantaged in pursuit of a flawed policy.

An increasing body of evidence shows us that battening down the hatches not only doesn’t reduce that global debt – a decade of austerity barely dented the position whilst wreaking misery on millions – it snuffs out growth, too.

Conversely, borrowing – some might prefer the term investment – can increase productivity and unlock growth if targeted in the right places.

Plunging communities into poverty and accepting a 7% reduction in living standards as inevitable, all while the vast fortunes of others grow over the same period – is guaranteed to stifle recovery. And it is inhumane.

CFG’s board has had to face tough choices, choices that are common to most right now, especially those that have reserves that are less than where they’d like them to be.

Do we ‘tighten our belts’, ‘cut our cloaks according to our cloth’ (and all those other austerity-era phrases we frequently hear and read)?

Or is the long-term, healthy and strategically-focused answer to target investment in order to bring about real change?

At the end of the day, our focus is on delivering impact and the money is a means to that end, not the end in itself.

And when there’s talk of waste, or lack of personal effort or skill, and placing blame for our current woes at the doors of those with the least, the whole of society is impoverished.

I have some sympathy for politicians who are not incentivised to think long-term, but they must wean themselves off policy that is driven solely by the the numbers, the money.

It’s not realistic to exclude in assessments of GDP all the things that drive growth and, crucially, make life worthwhile.

So, is there any hope on the horizon?


More people are taking an interest and asking questions. Broader, more creative thinking is taking hold. The austerity-justifying tropes are being challenged. And the more they are rejected the more that knot in my tummy loosens.

Collectively we must lean into redesign, with a solutions-focus, and reject the narrowing and narrowmindedness of current political discourse.

If we don’t, we’ll be like the chap from my local shop. We’re just going to keep on varying the depth of our woe, rather than pulling ourselves out of the mire.





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