Vicky Pryce tells Highgate audience 'Austerity isn't working'

PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:06 08 February 2016

Economists Vicky Pryce and Ewen Stewart with La Sainte Union pupil, Zelda Feldman, and Benedict Milner from Highgate School

Economists Vicky Pryce and Ewen Stewart with La Sainte Union pupil, Zelda Feldman, and Benedict Milner from Highgate School

© Nigel Sutton email

Vicky Pryce, the Greek-born economist who was jailed for perverting the course of justice, told an audience in Highgate that austerity is not the answer to the UK's economic problems.

Ms Pryce is the ex-wife of former Liberal Democrat MP Chris Hulme, who was jailed for the same offence in allowing his then wife to accept his penalty points on her driving licence.

Although she came to public attention as the proverbial “woman scorned” after going to the press when her husband left her, Ms Pryce has enjoyed a distinguished career as an economist and was formerly joint head of the UK’s Government Economic Service.

She wrote “Prisonomics” whilst serving two months at HMP Sutton Park in 2013, which was part memoir and part economic critique of the prison system.

Proposing the motion at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution that, “This house believes austerity is not the answer”, Ms Pryce told the audience the situation in her native Greece was proof positive that the policy of austerity is doomed to fail.

She said that making continuous cuts was creating enormous social tensions in Europe and effectively leading to a humanitarian crisis, and argued that: “Fiscal relaxation, rather than austerity, has to be the answer.”

Ms Pryce was seconded by Benedict Milner, 16, from Highgate School, who argued that austerity was unfairly targeting the young and the poor through policies such as tuition fees.

Opposing the motion was Ewen Stewart, Director of independent consultancy Walbrook Economics, who argued in favour of austerity, saying it was helping to grow the private sector.

He said: “I know it is not popular to take the austerity line, but what if increased austerity measures actually increases what the poor will have tomorrow?”

Mr Stewart said the argument that austerity was “just not fair” was akin to something his five-year-old son would say, and argued that austerity was something of a myth, because, he claimed: “Spending in real and absolute terms has never been higher in this country.”

He was seconded by Zelda Feldman, 16, a sixth former at La Sainte Union School, who cited Canada as an example of a country where well-managed austerity had led to successful economic recovery.

The Highgate audience agreed with Ms Pryce and her seconder, and the motion was carried.

The Institution’s next debate will take place on March 16, and will ask whether overseas aid is a waste of money.

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