Many of you wrote to me about what you wanted from the Budget Statement. Almost all emails on the topic asked for one of four things:
- Tackle the health and social care crisis
- Invest in firm climate action
- Help those affected by rising cost of living
- Bridge education needs by supporting teachers and pupils
All these needs were mostly absent in the Chancellor’s Budget Statement.
We are in the midst of an economic and social crisis. Food prices are rising. Gas bills are up. Petrol costs are up. Meanwhile, there is a record NHS waiting list, empty supermarket shelves, a shortage of train and HGV drivers, and millions of children have fallen behind in their education.
Anyone living in the country has felt the effects of this crisis in some way or the other. Everyone except the Chancellor, that is.
During his Financial Statement on 27th October, he said “these problems aren’t unique to the UK”. That is simply not true.
As well as having the highest death toll in Europe, Britain has suffered the worst economic hit of any major economy. Patients are not waiting months for a hip replacement surgery or even a dental appointment in Germany and there are no cardboard cutouts hiding empty supermarket shelves in Japan. We may be growing faster than some according to the Chancellor, but as Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Labour Chancellor said, “it is because we fell the furthest”.
Poor growth has led to higher taxes
This isn’t just a problem caused by Covid. Successive Conservative governments have weakened the foundations of our economy. The government has no plan to address these long term challenges. Under the Conservatives, Britain has become a low growth economy, making less money available for public services. According to the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), taxes will reach their highest level in over seventy years by 2026/27, hitting 36.2%, the highest level since 1949/50.
Labour has a plan to ease the pressure on households and businesses right now. We’d abolish VAT on domestic energy bills for 6 months to help people get through the winter months, and we’d cut Business Rates next year. These measures would be paid for through higher than expected VAT receipts in the first half of the year, and a temporary increase in tax on large digital services firms, which have prospered during the pandemic.
Taking on the healthcare crisis through empty promises
On healthcare, the government announced £5 billion for health research over the next three years. Yet the Government has already failed to deliver its previous commitment to double funding for dementia research to invest £1.6 billion by the end of the decade.
We were promised 40 new hospitals and over 70 hospital upgrades to tackle the crisis in healthcare. What we currently have are four where work has begun, and a revised definition for what ‘new’ means. NHS Trusts are being forced to describe any building work on existing sites as a ‘new hospital’.
The Chancellor also announced that the NHS would receive £300 million to complete the programme replacing mental health dormitories with single ensuite rooms. This is nothing more than a re-announcement of the £400 million committed last year.
No concern for education inequality
The Chancellor announced “a new package of £1.8bn” for education recovery, bringing the total for recovery to £4.9 billion since the start academic year 2020/21.
However, this is still £10 billion short of what Kevan Collins, the government’s education recovery advisor, argued was needed to ensure pupils got the help they needed to catch up on learning lost because of the pandemic.
The government has also boasted of investing £4.7 billion for schools in England by 2024/25. But this would only bring school funding back to 2010 levels under the last Labour government.
No mention of the climate crisis
The Chancellor did not mention climate once in his speech. That is par for the course of a government willing to squander the opportunities of the zero carbon transition to support jobs and invest in British industries. It is typical of a government intent on piling the costs on working people and future generations.
Indeed, some measures seem to go in the wrong direction completely. The £300 million tax cut in domestic Air Passenger Duty will, according to the OBR, lead to 410,000 more flights a year, incentivising polluting air travel while the Chancellor was silent on high-speed rail. In contrast, Labour has made a pledge to invest £28 billion in addressing climate change every year for the rest of the decade.
The Budget Statement: My verdict
From the Chancellor’s Financial Statement and subsequent debates, it is clear that this government is blind to the concerns of people across the country, including people in Bristol West who have contacted me.
It has no plan to tackle the growing cost of living crisis. It is unconcerned with the enormous tax burden it has placed on working people and it doesn’t care about future generations and the wider world by refusing to invest in climate action.
As the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, I will continue to push this government to open its eyes to the challenges faced by working people and businesses in UK today. It’s easy for them to skew numbers favourably and twist words to show targets are being met. It takes true leadership to confront harsh realities and face the challenges of life in 2021 head on.