Does the current economic crisis require the deep cuts in public spending announced in the June 2010 emergency budget, with potential implications for public health? The arguments for and against such cuts in response to economic recession are complex, but if public health professionals are to engage in debates about future public spending, they should be informed by relevant evidence. In this perspective, we note that opinions among politicians and economists about how to respond to economic downturns are divided, while other EU countries, many with greater levels of debt than the UK, are protecting public expenditure unless required to do so by the International Monetary Fund. Current UK debt may in fact be viewed as sustainable given current information about interest rates, inflation and economic growth. Before accepting large cuts in public spending, it is important to contrast the lack of evidence for such short-term fixes with potentially dire repercussions for population health and welfare.