Philip Hammond MP. Photo credit: NATO Summit Wales 2014 via photopin (license)

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has branded UK Government proposals for a further £3.5bn in cuts to Whitehall departments as “reckless”, warning the Conservative’s “relentless austerity” will “hammer some of the poorest people living in our communities”.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to demand that government departments find 6% in savings by 2020, when he delivers the Spring Budget next week, amid fears the UK’s departure from the European Union could place renewed pressure on the economy.

The SNP say further cuts at a time when Britain is “on the brink of leaving the EU” could compound the “worst risks” of a “hard Brexit”, which they claim “the Tories seem intent on pursuing”.

In a press release sent to Welfare Weekly, the SNP say: “The latest call from Chancellor Philip Hammond confirms a litany of failures by successive Tory governments, reveals the economic harm being perpetrated through Brexit, and the folly of refusing to heed repeated SNP calls to halt the cuts.”

They add: “After seven years of slash and burn Tory austerity – which has hit poorest households the hardest – the SNP is calling on the UK government to finally accept that their economic policies have failed for good.”

A recent report from the left-leaning Resolution Foundation think tank warned Tory policies are causing “the biggest increase in inequality since Thatcher”. Their research found that the rollout of more than £12bn of welfare cuts, coupled with poor wage growth, means household incomes after housing costs are set to grow by just 0.5% a year between now and 2020.

The Resolution Foundation also warned that the incomes of the poorest half of households are set to fall by an average 3%, while the richest look set to see income gains of around 4% over the remainder of this parliament.

Commenting on the research, Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, said at the time: “Britain has enjoyed a welcome mini-boom in living standards in recent years. But that boom is slowing rapidly as inflation rises, productivity flatlines and employment growth slows.

“The squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis tended to hit richer households the most. But this time around it’s low and middle income families with kids who are set to be worst affected.

“This could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds on living standards – the weak income growth of the last parliament and rising inequality from the time Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.”

The SNP said the UK Government has failed to heed repeated calls for an end to austerity, accusing the Conservatives of “burying their heads deeper and deeper into the sand” instead of acknowledging that “austerity hasn’t worked”.

Stewart Hosie MP, SNP spokesperson on the Economy, said: “Firstly the manner in which the UK government sought to sneak out this significant announcement under cover of darkness is completely reprehensible.

“Secondly, and more fundamentally, these further deep cuts to public spending simply mount further austerity on top of austerity and would hammer some of the poorest people living in our communities.

“It’s an admission by the Tories that seven years of relentless austerity hasn’t worked. They need to accept that reality instead of burying their heads deeper and deeper into the sand.

“The evidence is staring them right in the face – with public services such as the NHS in crisis in England under the Tories and prison officers in England on the brink of strikes.

“It’s little wonder experts believe that continuing to pursue austerity will drive the biggest increase in inequality since Thatcher.

“Scheduling more cuts for a time when the UK will be on the brink of leaving the EU could compound the very worst risks of the ruinous hard Brexit which the Tories seem intent on pursuing.

She added: “And crucially, what does this announcement mean in terms of Scotland’s finances? We’re already in line for a drastic 9% real terms reduction in the Scottish Government’s discretionary budget by 2019-20. And while the SNP has sought to use our finances carefully to mitigate the worst excesses of Tory austerity, further cuts could prove devastating.

“The SNP has consistently called for a reasonable, modest increase in public spending to boost productivity, trade and investment. It’s time for the Tories to listen – and finally bring a halt [to] their failing austerity agenda.

“To heap yet more austerity on top of the mess and uncertainty they’ve created through Brexit would be completely reckless.”