I thank the Chancellor for providing me with early sight of his statement, but I have to say that his complacency today is astounding. We face in every public service a crisis on a scale that we have never seen before. Has he not listened to the doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, carers and even his own councillors? They are telling him that they cannot wait for the next Budget. They are telling him to act now. For eight years they have been ignored by this Government, and today they have been ignored again.
The Chancellor has proclaimed today that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This shows just how cut off from the real world he is. Last year, growth in our economy was among the lowest in the G7—the slowest since 2012. The OBR has just predicted that we will scrape along the bottom for future years. Wages are lower now, in real terms, than they were in 2010—and they are still falling. According to the Resolution Foundation, the changes to benefits due to come in next month will leave 11 million families worse off—and, as always, the harshest cuts fall on disabled people.
The gap in productivity between this country and the rest of the G7 is almost the widest for a generation. UK industry is 20% to 30% less productive than in other major economies—and why? In part, the reason is that investment by the Government, in real terms, is nearly £18 billion below its 2010 level. This is a Government who cut research and development funding by £1 billion in real terms. Business investment stagnated in the last quarter of 2017. Despite all the promises, the Government continue to fail to address the regional imbalances in investment. London will, again, receive five times more transport investment than Yorkshire and Humberside and the north.
How dare this Government speak on climate change? This is a Government who singlehandedly destroyed the solar industry, with 12,000 jobs lost as a result of subsidy cuts. The Chancellor talks about the fourth industrial revolution, but Britain has the lowest rate of industrial robot use in the OECD. The Government have put £75 million into their artificial intelligence programme—less than a tenth of what the US is spending.
The Tories can shout all they want and they can make their snide remarks, but people out there know about the crisis in our communities.
The Chancellor has made great play this week of reaching a turning point in reducing the deficit and debt. That is a bit rich coming from a party that has put £700 billion on the national debt over the past eight years. It is worth remembering that this is a party that promised us that the deficit would be eliminated completely by 2015 and then 2016. Bizarrely, his predecessor, now ensconced in the Evening Standard—or Black Rock, the Washington Speakers Bureau, or whatever number of jobs he now has—has been tweeting about achieving, three years late, a deficit target that he actually abandoned himself.
The reality is that the Chancellor and his predecessor have not tackled the deficit: they have shifted it on to the public services that the Chancellor’s colleagues are responsible for. He has shifted it on to the Secretary of State for Health and the shoulders of NHS managers, doctors and nurses throughout the country. NHS trusts will end this financial year £1 billion in deficit. Doctors and nurses are struggling and being asked to do more and more while 100,000 NHS posts go unfilled. Does the Chancellor really believe that the NHS can wait another eight months for the life-saving funds it needs? How many people have to die waiting in an ambulance before he acts? He has mentioned the pay offer to NHS staff that we are expecting shortly. That was forced upon him by campaigns against the pay cap by the Labour party and the trade unions. Taking away a day’s holiday from those dedicated staff is mean-spirited. I ask him now: will he drop this miserly act?
The Chancellor has also shifted the deficit onto the Secretary of State for Education and head teachers, with the first per capita cut in schools funding since the 1990s. Today the Government are even trying to deprive 1 million children of a decent school dinner.
am appealing to Tory MPs today, if they are serious about ending austerity, to vote with us this afternoon to give those children the free school meal they are entitled to.
The Chancellor has shifted the deficit on to the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary. Crime is rising, yet he has cut the number of police officers by 21,500 and the number of firefighters by 8,500, and our prisons and probation service are in dangerous crisis.
In shifting the deficit on to the shoulders of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in reality he has shifted the burden on to local councillors—Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative councillors alike. I raise again the stark reality of what that means for the most vulnerable children in our society. There has been a 40% cut in early intervention to support families. The result is the highest number of children taken into care since the 1980s. Children’s charities—not us but children’s charities—are saying that this crisis could turn into a catastrophe without further funding. Last year, 400 women seeking refuge were turned away because there were no places available for them in refuges. There are now nearly 5,000 of our fellow citizens sleeping rough on our streets—more than double the number in 2010. Tragically, one of our homeless citizens died only feet away from the entrance to Parliament.
The Chancellor mentioned additional housing funding in London. The additional housing funding announced for London today is not a new announcement: this is money already announced. Any new funding is welcome, but it is simply not enough and it represents a cut in London’s budgets compared with the money that Labour allocated in 2010. One million vulnerable older people have no access to the social care they need. Conservative Councils are going bust. Many will be forced to hike up council tax. Councils are running out of reserves, as the National Audit Office explained to us. I ask the Chancellor: will he listen to Conservative council leaders, such as the leader of Surrey, who said:
“We are facing the most difficult financial crisis in our history. The government cannot stand idly by while Rome burns”?
How many more children have to go into care? How many more councils have to go bust? How many more have to run out of reserves before the Chancellor wakes up to this crisis and acts?
Today’s statement could have been a genuine turning point but it is, depressingly, another missed opportunity. People know now that austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity. The Conservatives chose to cut taxes for the super-rich, the corporations and the bankers, and it was paid for by the rest of us in society. They even cut the levy on the bankers in the Finance Bill. We were never “all in this together” as they claimed—never. They cut investment at the very time when we should have been developing the skills and infrastructure needed to raise productivity and grasp the technological revolution with both hands. And when they had a responsibility to meet the challenge of Brexit, we have a Chancellor who this weekend admitted he has not even modelled the Government’s options.
Today we have the indefensible spectacle of a Chancellor congratulating himself on marginally improved economic forecasts, while he refuses to lift a finger as councils go bust, the NHS and social care are in crisis, school budgets are cut, homelessness has doubled and wages are falling. This is not a Government preparing our country for the future; it is a Government setting us up to fail.