Tory Britain in 2017: NHS crisis, social care nightmare, school budgets cut for 1st time since 90s, cuts to disabled and riots in our prisons.
This was how Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s tweet summed up austerity Britain on the eve of this week’s budget.
He could have added three thousand people use food banks each day and that over four thousand people sleep rough each night.
And this of course is just the tip of the iceberg – the majority of people are now seeing a real squeeze in living standards and wages, which is set to deepen in the years ahead.
Yet despite this extraordinary backdrop, with economic difficulties heightening due to the Tories’ dogged insistence on both ideologically-driven austerity and now pursuing a ‘hard brexit,’ Phillip Hammond and Theresa May’s budget this week represented a continuation of the same economic strategy of George Osborne and David Cameron.
This is an economic strategy that has failed. It has seen the richest 1% watch their wealth double while ordinary families struggle to make ends meet. The chief executives of big companies now paid 180 times more than the average worker and taxed less.
As Jeremy Corbyn put it, “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.”
Whatever happened to the shared society?
Most of all this was a Tory budget that lacked a vision for a better future or to tackle the growing sense of insecurity many face.
4.5 million workers in Britain in insecure work, with 2.3 million working variable shift patterns, and 1.1 million on temporary contracts.
Yet with their ‘hard brexit’ strategy – of pulling up the drawbridge and cutting Britain off from one of the largest markets on the planet by leaving the single market and possibly the Customs Union - the Tories are actively contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the economy.
As Len McCluskey of Unite explained, the budget speech “was absent of any sense that the chancellor or the government grasped the enormity of the shock that Brexit will bring to core manufacturing industries,” with “none of the basic initiatives needed to demonstrate that the government is serious about making its industrial strategy work.“
And whilst the Chancellor has changed, the Tories are still not listening to the growing coalition of voices - from the experts at the IMF and OECD to our trade unions - that our saying consistently higher levels of government investment are needed to navigate the choppy waters ahead.
As Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, succinctly put it “The Chancellor missed the opportunity to get Britain match-fit for Brexit by investing in jobs and infrastructure. “
In contrast to the Tories, Labour is clear we need urgent and sustained investment in skills and infrastructure.
We need to invest not only in a major house-building programme, but also to modernise our transport system and install a speedier broadband service equivalent to those in the Far East. This would lay the foundation for an influx of private sector investment. By taking a lead in tackling climate change Britain could create new high-skill, high-tech, high-wage jobs, which would also boost our exports.
What makes me angry about the state of ‘austerity Britain’ is that my generation is the luckiest in human history. Born into post-war Britain’s welfare state we all got a job, healthcare, free education and help to buy our homes or pay our rents.
Instead, in Tory Britain today, 4 million children are living in poverty, this will rise by another million in coming years, and the Government will do nothing about it.
We didn’t lose the last General Election because we were too Left-wing but because we didn’t have a coherent economic strategy. Now, Jeremy and John McDonnell’s economic plans to rebalance and modernise our economy can both restore Labour’s economic credibility and offer millions of voters the hope of a better future whilst also underpinning popular policies such as a properly funded NHS, a £10 an hour minimum wage and an end to the public sector pay gap.
It’s our duty to try and make this happen, so my children and grandchildren have the same opportunities we had.
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