IF you had set out wilfully to maximise damage to the UK economy back in 2010, it is difficult to imagine that you could have done a “better” job than the Conservatives.

People have suffered, and continue to endure, the effects of many billions of pounds of cuts to annual welfare spending. The non-partisan Resolution Foundation observed this week that more than £12 billion of working-age welfare cuts will hammer the living standards of the poorest households between this fiscal year and 2020/21.

Savage cuts in welfare provision, a central plank of Conservative policy since 2010, have weakened the UK economy by depressing demand, and will continue to do so.

As if this were not enough, we have also had the entirely unnecessary referendum on European Union membership, seemingly held to settle internal Conservative Party squabbles, and the resultant Brexit vote.

One predictable consequence of the Brexit vote, amid the ensuing shambles, has been a plunge in the pound and a resultant leap in inflation.

It seems almost everywhere you look these days there are signs of mounting inflation. Squeezed households are already feeling the pinch at supermarkets. Painful inflation will be a big economic theme this year.

The pound’s drop has hiked import prices and fuel costs.

The Office for National Statistics has noted sterling’s depreciation against the dollar has pushed up the price of petrol, and of technology. These effects are also plain to see, at the petrol pumps and in terms of recent price hikes by the likes of Apple and Microsoft.

A survey this week from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply revealed manufacturers’ costs leapt last month at the fastest pace since comparable records began a quarter-century ago. Factory gate prices rose at their sharpest rate since April 2011.

And Irn-Bru manufacturer AG Barr flagged the impact of the weak pound on its costs. It purchases a lot of dollar and euro-denominated materials.

The Bank of England’s latest forecasts, published yesterday, highlight its expectation that annual UK consumer prices index inflation will climb to the two per cent target this quarter. It was at 0.3 per cent in May, ahead of the Brexit vote, and had risen to 1.6 per cent by December.

Inflation is then projected by the Bank to climb well above target, coming in at 2.7 per cent in the opening three months of 2018, 2.6 per cent a year later, and 2.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2020. So it is expected to be above target as far as the eye can see.

The Bank raised its UK growth forecast for this year from 1.4 per cent to two per cent and edged up each of its 2018 and 2019 expansion predictions by 0.1 percentage points to 1.6 per cent and 1.7 per cent respectively.

While this might prompt a bit of flag-waving by Brexiters, the key point is that the Bank continues to expect UK growth to be well below the long-term average annual rate of about 2.75 per cent as far out as the forecast extends. And the Brexit vote remains a key factor in the weakness of the projected growth.

We should be used to below-average growth by now. Miserably below-trend growth has been something of a hallmark of the Conservatives since they came to power in 2010.

It is a pity some who viewed their vote for Brexit as a protest failed to aim their ire in the right direction, at those who have actually dragged down their living standards after the last recession. The real culprit is the Conservative Government, with its welfare cuts and poor stewardship of the economy.

The tough times endured by many in the UK have nothing to do with the EU. The EU has in fact significantly improved the lot of many people by ensuring some basic employment rights, including entitlement to holidays. Given the Conservatives’ track record on employment legislation, looking all the way back to the 1980s, we should probably worry a lot about what the future might hold on this front.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney yesterday warned that uncertainty over future arrangements with the EU was weighing on business investment, which had been flat since the end of 2015.

And it is not for nothing the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee cut UK base rates even further, to a fresh record low of 0.25 per cent, last August. Amid the even lower rates outlook following the Brexit vote, banks reduced further the paltry interest rates paid to savers.

So the real value of millions of people’s cash savings is set to be eroded significantly by above-target inflation.

The Resolution Foundation, predicting the biggest rise in inequality since the Thatcher years of the late 1980s between this fiscal year and 2020/21, flags inflation as well as the swingeing welfare cuts. It projects a significant fall in real incomes, after housing costs, for households in the bottom half of the income bracket. Stagnation is projected in the middle.

Given employees’ lack of wage bargaining power and general economic weakness, as well as anecdotal evidence, the forecasts are not surprising.

In days gone by, inflation of three per cent might not have been so much of a problem because companies ensured cost-of-living pay increases, and welfare provision was not being driven down.

Given the policy mix we have seen since 2010, we should perhaps not be surprised by the Resolution Foundation’s observation that incomes will rise for those at the top end.

Rising inequality is at odds with the “all in this together” line. And it is, from the viewpoint of society, a disgrace.

This view might cut no ice with the Tories, given the ideological nature of the welfare cuts and the fact it is the Brexit vote that has fuelled inflation.

So maybe it is worth pointing out to them, if they are willing to listen, that the rise in inequality is also bad for the economy. If the real incomes of households in the bottom half of the income bracket fall, this will weigh very heavily indeed on consumer spending and growth.