The Prime Minister has promised that “austerity is over.” Does this mean that schools in my constituency will no longer need to ask parents for cash donations? Or hospitals will finally get the funding they need? Or an end to the Tories’ penny-pinching Universal Credit, which is driving people into poverty?
Sadly, today’s Budget Statement shows austerity may be with us for as long as the Tories stay in power.
The meagre funding announced today will do little to make up for eight years of brutal cuts. The austerity project was a political choice, not a necessity. We now know that this choice has cost our country dearly.
It is not just Labour politicians who are sceptical about the Tories’ claims. The Institute for Fiscal Studies notes there are billions of pounds of cuts still to come, on top of eight years of cuts which have already put our country under visible strain.
In Bristol this means there’s less money to look after those who need social care, less money to support youth projects and less money for the routine maintenance of the city like fixing potholes and keeping our parks and streets clean. I wrote to the Chancellor last week to appeal for more funding for local authorities like Bristol, whose budgets have been cut repeatedly over the past eight years.
The recent years have been particularly catastrophic for Bristol’s schools. I’m so proud of the staff and teachers in our schools and nurseries who are fighting to deliver good education for every child in the city. But headteachers tell me that their budgets have been squeezed, and that funding from central government has failed to keep up with rising demand, rising costs, and rising numbers of children who need extra support with either language learning or special needs and disabilities.
In his statement, the Chancellor promised £400 million for schools, to “buy the little extras they need.” This pitiful offering is insulting for schools which have struggled to provide decent education in crumbling and inadequate facilities as schools’ capital investment budgets have fallen £3.5 BILLION since 2010-11.
As a result, schools have fewer staff, less targeted support and have dropped whole subjects from their curriculum. This can’t go on. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education earlier this month to appeal for the government to stop hiding behind their misleading claims to “record levels of funding” (which have also been called out in an extraordinary attack by the head of the UK Statistics Authority). Per pupil funding has actually fallen by 8% since 2010. To give all children a fair chance in life, regardless of their background, I believe state schools must be properly funded.
There will no doubt be some winners from this budget, at least in the short-term. For example, the Chancellor decided to continue freeze fuel duty and drop any tax on disposable cups, despite increasingly alarming news about the climate and plastic pollution. Failing to put a price on pollution will cost us all in the long-term.
Brexit adds even more uncertainty to this debate. The Chancellor said that his budget is based on getting a trade deal with the European Union. If the Tories’ incompetent negotiation strategy fails, which looks increasingly likely, it will seriously damage our economy. In this scenario the government would be likely to further cut the police, help for vulnerable children or care for the elderly. Let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as a Brexit dividend, and the Chancellor knows it.
I will always stand up for those working extremely hard in Bristol’s hospitals, schools, council and the voluntary groups that do so much to help people in this city. This is a government running out of ideas and running out of time. We need a Labour government that will deliver responsible investment in infrastructure and public services, rebuilding Britain after eight years of irresponsible financial management.