Next week at the Spring Budget the Tories will seek to prove both that the Theresa May, Phillip Hammond team has ‘reset’ economic policy from the Cameron-Osborne years and that the economic picture is rosy for Britain- both couldn’t be further from the truth.
As John McDonnell put it this week, “The reality couldn't be more different. The truth is that the Tories' economy is rigged in favour of a privileged few who aren't paying their fair share.”
We need to be 100% clear that May and Hammond represent yet more of the same Tory austerity, and with their commitment to a tax-haven Britain post May’s “hard Brexit”, it is likely this ideologically-driven austerity will deepen in the years ahead.
And we also need to be clear that austerity is already failing and is not sustainable.
We have a low productivity, low wage economy and even the jobs that are being created are insecure and often poorly paid.
Real hourly wages are 10% lower than before the financial crash.
The result of this is that the tax base needed to secure our public services is less stable than it could be.
And every day we see in the news, how the human record of austerity so far is clear - 86% of tax and benefit savings to the Treasury have come from women and have landed most heavily on disabled people and the poor.
We also face a crisis in our public services, a crisis of this Government’s own making.
When it comes to our public services, as thousands of people march in London to save our NHS, perhaps the biggest lie of all from the proponents of austerity is that most of the cuts are ‘efficiency savings’ and don’t have consequences.
The crisis in social care illustrates how false this is. Cuts to social care, amounting to £4.5bn since 2010, have brought the system to the brink of collapse.
Over one million vulnerable elderly people now lack access to the care they need.
Research released this week in a regular update from NHS Digital showed how tens of thousands of care workers have been axed under the Tories, fuelling the social care crisis.
Local councils have seen their funding go down 40% since the Tories came to power in 2010 and in the five years of David Cameron’s premiership cut 33,000 direct care workers, among a total of 46,600 posts cut in adult social services across England.
Over 7,000 jobs were lost in the 12 months to September last year alone.
At the same time, the mounting social care crisis has been blamed for worsening delays in A&E units and response times to 9999 ambulance calls. As Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth MP has hammered home again more and more doctors are simply unable to discharge fit patients - so called bed blocking - because they cannot be cared for outside hospital.
And despite promises to protect NHS funding, the reality is that we are witnessing the largest financial squeeze in the NHS’s history, meaning that by 2018 NHS spending per head will be falling.
Indeed, the government is driving through £22 billion in cuts by 2020.
Another key Tory myth is that we can’t afford decent public services. Yet the £1bn inheritance tax cut will benefit just 26,000 wealthy families.
The cost of Corporation Tax cuts worth almost £15 billion by 2021 is equivalent to the cost of employing 10,000 teachers, 10,000 police officers and 12,000 nurses, full-time, every year, for a decade.
These are deliberate political choices by this government to privilege tax giveaways to the super-rich and giant corporations, even though they undermine Britain’s tax base even further.
In the longer term we need a fairer, progressive tax system, but in the short term Labour is quite rightly also calling on the Government to use the Spring Budget next week to end the crisis in our NHS and social care by giving the emergency cash injection that is urgently needed.
And to fund our public services and improve living standards for the 99% we need to radically different economic policy – based on investment not cuts and a different vision for the future to a free trade agreement with the US dreamed up in Trump Tower.
With Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor Labour has articulated a real economic alternative to austerity – the challenge for us all now is to unite behind this programme and help popularise it, so the majority of people understand austerity is an economic choice not a political necessity.
- Matt Willgress is the national organiser of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. On March 14 at 7pm at the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House, they will host an event on Labour's Alternative to the Tory Austerity Budget with John McDonnell MP, Diane Abbott MP, Richard Burgon MP and many others. You can register in advance at https://bit.ly/mcdonnellonthebudget
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