Most voters think George Osborne has failed on his key aim to get Britain's budget deficit under control, a new poll has found.
Research by ComRes for ITV News found just a fifth believe the Chancellor has got a grip on the government's books, while more than half say the coalition has failed to tackle the deficit - the amount by which government spending outstrips revenues.
The finding will be hugely awkward for Osborne, who is preparing to deliver his last Autumn Statement before next year's General Election on Wednesday, as he has put deficit reduction at the core of his economic agenda in the aim of balancing the nation's books.
When he took over at the Treasury in 2010, the Chancellor promised to eliminate the deficit by the end of this parliament, but has been forced to postpone that goal by as much as four years as the decline in borrowing ground to a halt.
Now the government's official forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, is expected to show that Osborne is facing a £50 billion black hole in the public finances as the deficit is significantly larger than first forecast.
In 2010, the OBR forecast that borrowing would be £37 billion in 2014-2015, however this March, it said it was on track to be around £86.6 billion. However, their latest estimate could surpass that, forcing Osborne to find greater public spending cuts.
With the Chancellor insisting that he can achieve his deficit reduction target without tax rises, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts deep spending cuts in non-protected budgets - such as police, local government and environment - over the coming years.
Contrary to Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander's claim that only "smallish" cuts remain to be made after the election, the economic thinktank expects spending to fall by about £28 billion over the next parliament, compared with about £23 billion during the five years of coalition.
Former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke has risked providing Labour with more ammunition by appearing to question whether Osborne could balance the books by 2017-2018, warning that the Tories should not "shut out" the prospect of tax rises.
He also admitted that Britain would now be in a "bad way" if the coalition had pushed ahead "full steam" with deficit reduction.
The Chancellor is expected to use today's Commons statement to repeat his frequent suggestion that a Labour government would be even worse at tackling the deficit and allow borrowing to soar.
Among the measures Osborne is set to announce in his Autumn Statement are:
- Funding and guarantees to unlock around £1 billion in investment for small and medium sized businesses, and an extension of the Funding for Lending scheme specifically geared towards smaller firms;
- A review of business rates to remove 'roadblocks' to growth;
- Plans for the government to directly commission housebuilding on public land for the first time in more than 40 years;
- Using fines paid by banks for manipulating Libor to help Ghurka veterans;
He is set to say: “Now Britain faces a choice. Do we squander the economic security we have gained, go back to the disastrous decisions on spending and borrowing and welfare that got us into this mess? Or do we finish the job? I say: ‘We stay the course to prosperity’. We support people who want to work hard and get on.”
Voters also share Osborne's scepticism about a prospective Labour government, as only 18% of those surveyed said the economy would improve if Ed Miliband wins power next year.
However, nearly half of those surveyed (41%) think the Tories do not deserve credit for improving Britain's economy, just ahead of the 36% who do.
Meanwhile, a similar amount (41%) think the economy would stagnate or get worse if the Tories win the next election, with just 29% thinking it would improve.
Tom Mludzinski, head of political polling at ComRes, said: "Despite many people recognising the Government has not got the deficit under control, and few give the Prime Minister and Chancellor credit for improving the economy, Eds Miliband and Balls have failed to make anyway headway on the issue.
"Economic credibility still largely lies with the Conservatives over Labour and we can expect to see the Conservatives hone their campaigning on an economic message where they are on safer ground."
This comes after Tory big beast Ken Clarke told BBC's Newsnight on Tuesday that the coalition's new plan to balance the books by 2017-2018 was a "legitimate target" but should not be immovable.
"I would aim to do it, get rid of the deficit by 2017-18. We should try to hit it but we should not be oblivious to the fact that nobody knows what the state of the world economy is going to be in 2017-18," he said.
Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: "David Cameron and George Osborne have now failed every test and broken every promise they made on the economy.
"They promised living standards would rise, but while millionaires have got a huge tax cut working people are £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories.
"This cost-of-living crisis is why the Chancellor will have to admit he has broken his promise to balance the books by next year."