AUSTERITY is coming to an end.

So claimed Chancellor, Philip Hammond, in his last Budget.

Everyone but the super-rich and the Taxpayers’ Alliance was thrilled.

For too long we have been pandering to those at the top of the tree, while the most vulnerable in our society have suffered – and continue to do so.

But influential thinktank the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimated this week that the Government was £5bn short of coming anywhere close to its claim of ending austerity.

And in the meantime cash-strapped councils are coming up with weirder and even more wonderful ways to save money, beginning with cutting back on litter pickers, and more recently cutting services to the most needy.

The latest scheme to save Darlington Borough Council about £200,000 a year is a crackpot plan to “teach” special educational needs pupils how to use public transport.

These pupils are currently taken to their specialist schools or bases within schools by minibus or taxi, often with an escort to help manage their anxiety.

For children with complex needs, quite often from financially struggling or busy working families, this process in itself is incredibly anxiety-inducing.

Expecting them to climb on mainstream public transport, unaccompanied, even with “training”, and manage to get themselves to school every day, is almost unthinkable.

The council is planning to assess which students are more capable of travelling independently, but the very nature of many hidden disabilities is that they can fluctuate hugely on a day-by-day or week-by-week basis.

A child may be capable of getting on a bus, paying, having to navigate the wider public, and getting off at the right stop one day, but the next day could be completely flummoxed by it.

If the assessments don’t take this into consideration, children with extra needs will be denied access to school.

In County Durham, 431 SEN pupils were suspended from school last year, with the county council saying more work needed to be done in supporting the pupils and preventing fixed-term exclusions among pupils with greater needs.

The behavioural issues can only come from lack of support for these pupils, plus a greater demand on services as recognition grows about conditions such as autism, and more diagnoses take place.

School budgets are stretched so tight that, this week, it was revealed that a headteacher in east Cleveland was paying for a school cleaner out of their own pocket.

Parents are increasingly being asked to pay for equipment and due to this excessive budget-cutting, it is little wonder that there just isn’t enough support in place for pupils who need extra care in school.

Without taking care of all our youngsters, even the most vulnerable and educating them to the best of our ability, ensuring they can get to and stay in school, then what is the future for the country?

Lack of education and emotional or learning difficulties plus lack of support can only lead to extra costs further down the line for health services and police. Austerity is a false economy which will cost us far more than £5bn in years to come.