Successive governments accused of being "wildly reckless" as report finds public sector pensions and unpaid student loans add up to create £1.85 trillion liabilities "timebomb"

 
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The Adam Smith Institute accuses governments of "exploiting jargon and downplaying its own reports to the public" (Source: Getty)

Successive governments have been accused of being "wildly reckless" as new research today warned state liabilities add up to a £1.85 trillion "timebomb".

The UK national liability figure, compiling "debts waiting to happen", brings the nation's total debt to £3.45 trillion, according to the Adam Smith Institute.

The report warned the liability, which includes £1.3 trillion in public sector pensions, will cost every person in the UK £53,822.

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The Adam Smith Institute warns that the public sector pensions liabilities will need to be raised through increased taxation and further cuts to public spending.

It said: "These public pensions will severely impair the financial prospects of future generations and are yet to be addressed in any meaningful way by the current government despite their proclamations of being in a time of austerity."

The report also accuses consecutive chancellors, including George Osborne, and the government of attempting to keep the figures out of the public eye for years by "exploiting jargon and downplaying its own reports to the public".

Read more: Should the UK worry about its record current account deficit?

In addition to public sector pensions, 93 per cent of which the Adam Smith Institute said are unfunded, the report picks out student loans as a major cost.

The Adam Smith Institute quotes figures from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills showing 45 per cent not expected to be repaid.

The institute said: “In effect it would mean that almost half of those in higher education to whom loans were extended actually received large grants irrespective of their means.

"The taxpayer is ostensibly fully funding increasing numbers of meaningless degrees for financially capable students whilst having their own welfare cut.”

Read more: Is the UK's university funding "unsustainable"?

The report analyses the Whole of Government Accounts and applies best practice auditing standards to the government's assets and liabilities.

The report also highlights the notional loss of more than £12bn from the government's RBS shareholding and a £34bn Network Rail debt recently loaded onto the public sector balance sheet. The Adam Smith Institute said nuclear decommissioning liabilities exceed £77bn.

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Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Homeowners worry about their mortgages and cut back when they are overstretched, but governments don’t. Instead they keep taking on new liabilities, with schemes that buy votes today but mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren. This is not just wildly reckless, it is deeply immoral too.

“Every law going through Parliament should have a price tag showing not just what it costs us today, but what it will cost us far into the future. Then, like the rest of us, politicians will have to live within their means.”

The Treasury has not disputed any of the Adam Smith Institute figures. A spokesman said: "Our first duty to the next generation is to put the public finances on a sustainable footing.

"That is exactly why we delivered a series of ambitious reforms to public sector pensions in the last parliament which will save over £430 billion by 2060."

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