My budget speech

Mr Deputy Speaker, this was a Budget of utter complacency; about the state of our economy, utter complacency about the crisis facing our public services and complacency about the reality of daily life for millions of people in this country.

 

Entirely out of touch with that reality of life for millions.

This morning over one million workers will have woken up not knowing whether they’ll work today, tomorrow or next week.

Millions more workers know their next pay packet will not be enough to make ends meet.

Millions struggling to pay rent or mortgage; with private renters on average pay nearly half their income in rent.

Yesterday Mr Deputy Speaker, over three thousand people in this country will have queued at food banks to feed themselves and their families.

Last night Mr Deputy Speaker, over four thousand people will have slept rough on the streets of this country.

And the Chancellor made his boasts about a strong economy, but who is reaping the rewards of this economy?

For millions it is simply not working.

Not working for the NHS, in its worst crisis ever, with funding being cut next year.

Not working for our children’s schools, where pupil funding continues to be cut.

Not working for our neighbourhoods which have lost 20,000 police officers, leaving the force in a “perilous state” in many parts of the country.

And not working for our dedicated public servants and the people who work in them nurses, firefighters, teachers, no pay rise for seven years for them.

And for people with disabilities who are twice as likely to be living in poverty and that this Government is denying them support that the courts say they need.

4 million children living in poverty which will rise by another million in coming years.

Not working for thousands of young people who can’t get anywhere to live, can’t get on the housing ladder and cannot in many cases leave the parental home.

Parents of grown-up children who would expect to be debt-free by now, but are having to bail out student debt, or try and help with a deposit to get housing if they can manage it.

And a million elderly people, and I will come onto this again, denied the social care they need due to the £4.6 billion of cuts made by his government with the support of the Lib Dems over the past five years.

Not for pensioners for whom the security of the Triple Lock remains in doubt.

Mr Deputy Speaker that is the reality facing Britain today. A government cutting services and living standards of the many to fund and continue to fund the tax cuts of the few.

There are some people Mr Deputy Speaker, who are doing very well under the Conservative government.

The chief executives of big companies now paid 180 times more than the average worker and taxed less.

The big corporations making higher profits and being taxed less.

Speculators making more and being taxed less and wealthiest families, taxed less due to cuts in inheritance tax.

All this adds up to £70 billion of tax giveaways over the next five years, to those who need it the least.

This government is the government with the wrong priorities let me give you three examples:

The pain of losing a child is unimaginable for most of us, but for those who do, that pain is worsened by the stress of having to pay for their own child’s funeral. I pay tribute to my friend the member for Swansea East for her campaign to establish a Children’s Funeral Fund.

But far from establishing such a fund, costing just £10 million a year, the Government is instead cutting support for bereaved families, 3 in 4 bereaved families would receive less. This is utterly heartless.

Despite generous tax giveaways at the top end, there was no money either for the 160,000 people with disabilities that a court has ruled deserve a higher rate of Personal Independence Payments. These are people with debilitating mental health conditions dementia, schizophrenia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Prime Minister came to office talking about “fighting burning injustices”. Less than nine months later, she seems to have forgotten all about them because none of them are being fought today.

Low pay holds people back and it’s holding our country back.

We’re the only major developed country in which economic growth has returned yet workers are worse off. Wages are still below the 2008 level.

Inflation rising, an urgent need to address the pressures on people’s incomes; massively rising personal debts, rising energy bills and the cost of the weekly shop, transport costs and housing costs all rising.

The Chancellor faced a series of tests as to whether he would stand on the same side of the people or not. He could have raised the minimum wage to the level of the living wage – the real living wage, of £10 per hour as we Labour are pledged to do. It would pay for a pay rise for six million people in this country, 62 percent of whom are women. He failed to do that.

Since 2010, millions of public sector workers have endured a pay freeze and then a pay cap, dedicated public servants who keep our services going have lost over 9 per cent of their real terms wages or will have done by 2020.

He could have ended the public sector pay cap, as we are pledged to do and given a pay rise to 5 million dedicated public servants who we all rely in day in day out in our hospitals, our health service in general and our local government. He failed to do that. It’s an insult to say they deserve falling living standards when we all know those in the public sector are working harder than ever covering the jobs of those that have gone. 

There is a crisis too Mr Deputy Speaker in job security. Millions of workers don’t know whether or not they’ll be working from day to day, millions of workers who don’t know how many hours they’ll be working this week or next week, just imagine what it’s like to try and plan your life if you don’t know what your income is going to be from one week to the other. Because Mr Deputy Speaker that is the reality.

Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker, there is nothing funny about being one of 900,000 workers on zero hours contracts, 55 percent of them women.

He could have announced  a ban of zero hours contracts – we are pledged to do. Again he failed.

But zero hours contracts Mr Deputy Speaker are only the tip of the iceberg, of 4.5 million workers in Britain in insecure work, 2.3 million working variable shift patterns, 1.1 million on temporary contracts.

We have long argued for a clampdown on bogus self-employment but today the Chancellor seems to have put the burden on self-employed workers instead.

There has to be a something for something deal, so I hope the Chancellor will bring forward extra social security in return? One policy that Labour backs is extending statutory maternity pay to self-employed women which is likely to cost just £10 million per year.

Low pay and insecure work have consequences for us all. Mr Deputy Speaker in reality we all pay for low pay.

There are a million working households having to claim housing benefit, just get that figure a million working households claiming housing benefit because their wages aren’t enough to pay the rent.  And there are 3 million working families who simply rely on tax credits to make ends meet. This is modern Britain.

The most effective way of boosting wages and increasing job security as all studies show is actually to improve collective bargaining through a trade union. Words that the Chancellor did not use in his speech. But instead the Trade Union Act we have will further shackle unions and perpetuate chronic low pay which actually costs us all a lot of money through in-work benefits.  We will promote collective bargaining and repeal the Trade Union Act.

This is a Chancellor and a Government not on the side of the workers, not on the side of taxpayers who pick up the bill for low pay and insecure work.

Mr Deputy Speaker, on International Women’s Day did the Chancellor deliver a budget that works for women?

According to House of Commons Library analysis commissioned by my friend the member for Rotherham, who is doing a brilliant job speaking up for women from our front benches, 86 per cent of the savings to the Treasury has made from tax and benefit changes have fallen on women.

Women’s lives have been made more difficult through successive policies of this Government. 

  • Women struggling with more caring responsibilities due to the state of emergency in social care.

  • The WASPI women born in the 1950s who with little notice are having to face a crisis in retirement, they could not possibly have predicted.

  • 54,000 women a year who are forced out of their jobs through maternity discrimination . They can’t afford this Government’s extortionate fees to take their employer to a tribunal in search of justice.

  • Women up and down the country who will have to wait another 60 years before the gender pay gap is closed.

  • The hundreds, hundreds of women being turned away from domestic violence shelters every year through lack of space or appropriate services or because they’ve simply been closed.

  • Mothers struggling, put under more pressure through cuts to universal credit and to tax credits.

And as if it wasn’t bad enough to cut benefits to children whose only crime is to be born third or fourth in a family, most shamefully Mr Deputy Speaker, as of next month women will have to prove their third child is a product of rape if they wish to qualify for child tax credits for that child.

I pay tribute to my friend the member for Rotherham and the honourable member for Glasgow Central for their campaigning on this issue . I hope the Chancellor will reverse this cut.

There is Mr Deputy Speaker, a housing crisis in this country – a crisis of supply and of affordability.

Since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest rate in peacetime since the 1920s. The building of social homes for rent is at its lowest level for a quarter of a century.

Did he empower councils to tackle the housing crisis by allowing them to borrow to build council housing as we are pledged to do? No.

Have they replaced council houses sold under right-to-buy as they promised? No, just one-in-six have been replaced.

And was there any commitment to return to councils the £800 million right-to-buy proceeds the Treasury has taken back, which would build  twelve thousand homes? No.

Did he scrap the unfair bedroom tax as we are pledged to do? No.

Did he reverse housing benefit cuts that would take support away from ten thousand young people? Despite opposition from Shelter, Crisis and Centrepoint, which even the honourable member for Enfield Southgate correctly described as “catastrophic”.

Last week the Institute for Government said there were “clear warning signs” of the damaging impact of the Government’s cuts on schools, prisons, health and social care.

This government has taken a sledgehammer to public services in recent years, the Chancellor now expects praise for patching up a small part of the damage.

The Budget didn’t provide the funding necessary now for the crisis in our NHS – which the BMA reckons needs an extra £10 billion.

It didn’t provide the funding necessary to end the state of emergency in social care now which needs £2 billion a year just to plug the gaps according to the King’s Fund.

That is not met by £2 billion over three years. The money is needed now. More than a million people, mainly older people, desperate for social care still can’t get it. The money ought to be made available now.

Because this government ducks really tough choices, like asking corporations to pay a little bit more in tax.

Not every local authority can just text Nick and get the deal they want.

And other council services are suffering as well:

Our communities are stronger when we have good libraries, and they are evaluable obviously to children but for the entire community. 67 closed last year because of local government underfunding.

700 Sure Start centres closed because of lack of funding for local authorities. Denying the life chances that a Labour government delivered to them with the opening of Sure Start centres in the 90’s. And 600 youth centres have closed as well.

These painful decisions being taken by councils not because they want to do it, but just because they don’t have enough money even to keep essential services running because of the slashing of their budgets, year on year. And it goes on, it affects our communities and our lives in so many ways.

Last year councils proposed to sell-off of school playing fields the equivalent of 500 football pitches. 500 pitches not available for young people to indulge in sport. It’s our duty as a community surely, to ensure all our young people wherever they live have a decent chance to grow up with a library, with a playing field, with a Sure Start centre. It’s not a lot to ask.

The Chancellor boasts Mr Deputy Speaker of a strong economy. but abandoned the targets of the previous Chancellor so let’s give a more realistic context to today’s figures: the deficit that was going to be eradicated in 2015 – you’ll remember the “long term economic plan”. The debt that was going to peak at 80% of GDP and then start falling.

Our economy is not prepared for Brexit. We still have an economy suffering from underinvestment and an over-reliance on consumer spending and wholly unsustainable levels of personal and household debt.

Investment must be evenly spread around our country and despite the announcements today, London continues to receive six times as much investment as the North East.

And so that’s why Labour is backing a ‘fair funding formula for investment’ so that every area gets it’s fair share of capital spending. What’s been announced today doesn’t achieve that. You can’t build a ‘Northern powerhouse’ or a ‘Midlands Engine’ if investment does not follow the sound-bites.

Our country currently spends 1.7% on Research & Development which is  well below the OECD average. The strongest economies spend over 3%.

In the immediate term, and the Chancellor didn’t have much to say about this, he must also focus his attentions on the precarious future of skilled workers jobs at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port and Luton Ellesmere and at Ford in Bridgend.

It would give export businesses more confidence if the government clearly committed to negotiating for tariff- and impediment-free access to the single market and dropped this reckless threat of turning Britain into a tax haven on the shores of Europe.

One of the biggest challenges facing our country Mr Deputy Speaker, is environmental; it’s climate change. This Government is failing to lead, failing to drive a mission-led industrial strategy as our own Business Select Committee has recommended.

The Chancellor failed to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority. No commitment to establishing a zero carbon standards on new buildings. And unclear about investments in public transport that will definitely reduce pollution.  The poor air quality is appalling.  It’s killing thousands of people in this country. Its taking away the life chances of many children growing up alongside polluted roads. The good work being done by Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the good work being done by the Welsh Labour Government has rightly recognised this as an ‘urgent public health crisis’, particularly for children. We have to deal with this crises and deal with it urgently.

There cannot be Mr Deputy Speaker, an industrial strategy or productivity gains unless there’s serious investment in skills.

Adult skills training cut by 54 per cent, further education budget by 14 per cent the small amounts committed today are long overdue but woefully insufficient. Over the coming years the schools budget is being cut by 8 per cent. Does the Chancellor really want fewer teachers and teaching assistants, even larger classes , shorter school days? Which is it?

I agree with the Prime minister that every child deserves a decent education. Every community deserves decent schools. You do it by working with those communities to provide those schools, not plonking into them selective schools which are not being demanded by those communities.

The money announced by the Prime Minister yesterday for new grammar schools is frankly a vanity project. Cancel this gimmick, reject selection and segregation and why not honour their own 2015 manifesto pledge to protect per pupil funding which is clearly not happening.

This is a Budget that lacks ambition for Britain and lacks fairness.

It demonstrates again the appalling priorities of this Government, another year of tax breaks for the few, public service cuts for the many.

When she took office, the Prime Minister said “If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly”.

This Budget did not address them; it failed them.

This Budget has done nothing to tackle low pay; nothing to solve the state of emergency that persists for so many people demanding and needing health and social care now; and nothing to make a fair economy that truly works for everyone.

It’s built on unfairness and it’s built on failure to tackle unfairness in our society.


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