I always view every Government policy, every announcement with a Burnley/Padiham filter. How will this affect my constituents is always the question and last week’s budget was no different. I don’t know what was more surprising or rather shocking: what the Chancellor said or what he didn’t.
Beginning with what he did say: Economic growth is down and is forecast to go down further for the next three years. Productivity is down and falling. The deficit which we were told would be wiped out by 2015 is still with us. Government borrowing is up. None of this makes me think of the ‘Strong economy’ that was promised. There were a lot of fine words in the budget speech and ambitious talk of Britain leading in the new technologies. None of this though has any bearing on the reality in Britain. Mention was specifically made of us leading in robotics which sounds grand but the Chancellor forgot to mention that we are bottom of the league in this new industry, behind Slovenia, Slovakia and not just a bit behind but miles behind the rest. Add to this the fact that last year apprenticeships were down 60%, our under 30s lag behind on technical qualifications and UK companies overall invest half as much as their European counterparts. Still on the subject of Europe: this week the European Union Medicines Agency moved out of London to Amsterdam. This is bad news because the jobs of 900 scientists, thousands of connected jobs and the lion’s share of European medical research funding went with it. Gone also, is our first line access to any new drugs and treatments. In the same week the EU Banking Authority was transferred to Paris. The Dutch and the French could not believe their luck. Having established that the economic landscape is a bit bleak the Chancellor moved on to the specifics.
Scrapping stamp duty for first time buyers is not a bad thing to do but I know for a fact that it is not stamp duty that prevents young people from buying their own home in Burnley it is a lack of a deposit. So while this is a welcome move it will do more to help those who are already better off. I also view with scepticism the changes to the tax thresholds. The starting threshold will rise to £11850 and low paid workers will benefit but the shame of this is that we have so many people in low paid employment. It is true that the number of jobs has increased and that unemployment has fallen but it is also true that there has been a massive increase in the number of people who have two and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet. The meagre increase in the living wage will do little to tackle low pay. At the opposite end of the scale the threshold for paying tax at the higher rate has increased. In these times when we are told that we must tighten our belts can there be any justification for cutting tax for those who earn more than £46350? You will also have noticed the marked lack of action in the budget to tackle the Paradise Papers tax scandal. This Government it would seem will go to great lengths to protect the richest, preferring instead to focus on making life harder for the very poorest.
The promise of extra funding for the NHS over 4 years is welcome but is only a fraction of what is needed and will not avert the looming crisis. The Head of NHS England has said recently that the NHS needs £4 billion immediately just to stay afloat. All the pressures on the NHS are all made considerably worse because of the billions of pounds of cuts to adult social care. Significantly the Chancellor chose not to mention social care at all in the budget and in fact he made no mention of pensioners generally or indeed the WASPI Women. No mention of of action to halt the closure of Women’s refugees. Nothing in the budget to address the funding crisis that is affecting all the schools in Burnley and Padiham. No mention of supporting the disabled or tackling the growing crisis in mental health. No mention of restoring safe budgets for our police and fire services. No mention of fair funding for local Government. No mention of the fact that last year 1.4 million emergency food parcels were distributed. Perhaps most shockingly there seemed to be a cold acceptance that 3.7 million British children are growing up in poverty even though Barnardos remind us that 1.7 million these children live in severe poverty and overall the total is predicted to rise to 5 million by 2020.
This is the eighth austerity budget and don’t we know it.