The backlash to austerity which tore apart communities was “hysterical”, and the Tory-led government should have cut public services deeper and earlier, David Cameron has said.
In defiant comments which will anger campaigners, the ex-prime minister said he does not regret slashing public spending during his premiership and that he should have “ripped the plaster off” earlier.
In an interview with the The Times to promote his memoirs For The Record, Cameron also paid tribute to former chancellor George Osborne who, he claims, did a good job “turning around the economic chaos that Labour left us”.
Since Cameron took power in 2010, more than four million people have used a foodbank and the number of people sleeping rough has doubled.
When pressed about austerity, however, the former premier said: “We were cutting just £1 in every £100 spent, but you’d think we had reinstated the workhouse.”
On public spending he says in his new book: “My assessment now is that we probably didn’t cut enough.
“We could have done more, even more quickly, as smaller countries like Ireland had done, to get Britain back in the black and then get the economy moving.
“Those who were opposed to austerity were going to be opposed — and pretty hysterically — to whatever we did.
“Given all the hype and hostility, and yes, sometimes hatred, we might as well have ripped the plaster off with more cuts early on. We were taking the flak for them anyway.
“We should have taken advantage of the window of public support for cuts when it was open.”
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has hit out over the news.
He said: “Cameron clearly has no idea of the scale of human suffering his austerity cuts inflicted on our communities. This confirms how cut off this privileged class of Tories are from the everyday lives of our people.”
Cameron, who this week apologised for losing the EU referendum to the Brexit campaign but not for calling one, was pressed over in-work poverty and the decline of communities due to cutbacks, but simply said he had taken “difficult decisions”.
In an interview for ITV, he said: “They were painful for many people and particularly for some public services but overall the strategy did work.”
The downgrading of the UK’s credit rating and a chorus of criticism of austerity in 2013 came, he claimed, just as the policy had begun to work.
He said that growth figures in 2014 that showed the UK economy expanding faster than any other member of the G7 group of industrial nations.
“Employment reached a record high,” he said. “The top 1% of earners were, for the first time since the beginning of the twentieth century — thanks mainly to the reduced top rate of tax — contributing more income tax than the bottom 75%.”