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.
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...
We are now bang in the middle of the Conference season and this week it is the turn of the Labour Party. As I begin to write this column I am on my way to Brighton with every intention of playing a full part in what promises to be a very exciting Conference. The Labour Party is the biggest political party in Europe and this year will be our biggest Conference ever. Thousands of members will attend along with representatives of every profession, business and cause known to man. Politics is all about people, priorities and policies in that order and nowhere more so than at Conference. I have been attending these events on and off for many years but of course as MP it is all very different and as a Shadow Minister different again. Conference is so much more than the debates in the main Conference hall that we all see on our television screens. Each day thousands of members and visitors meet to discuss dozens of issues and to determine policy for a future Labour Government. Fringe events run from breakfast till bed time and in between it’s time to visit the exhibition hall where key organisations ply their wares and look to gain support.
The day kicked off with a round table discussion with the Royal College of Physicians about the future of the NHS. I was pleased to be invited to take part in the discussion with senior doctors and a range of healthcare professionals. The focus of today’s discussion was gaps in the NHS workforce. This is has been an ongoing issue: the fact is the service is desperately short of staff in every department. It is widely acknowledged that morale in the NHS is at an all time low and recruitment and retention levels are a serious problem that to date the government is failing to address. As a result patients often have to wait for days to get an appointment to see their GP. The Government has promised to recruit 5000 extra GPs but the plans are not progressing well and the number continues to fall and in parts of the country surgeries have been forced to close leaving patients with no GP. I was therefore really pleased to accept an invitation to join a panel discussion with the Royal College of GPs to discuss ways of supporting GPs to deliver the best care for their patients in an environment of ever increasing demand. It was then time to turn my attention to community Pharmacy. Government funding cuts to community pharmacy budgets are expected according to the Conservative minister to lead to the closure of 3000 community pharmacies. I am working closely with National Pharmacy Association and the Pharmaceutical Society to extend the range of services provided in community pharmacy. Instead of forcing community pharmacies to close it would make far more sense to work with the sector to enable them to alleviate pressure on other areas of the NHS. With this in mind I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak at an event organised by the NPA.
Today Health is on the agenda in the main conference hall and Jonathan Ashworth who is the Shadow Secretary for Health and my boss will be outlining Labour’s plans for the NHS. I will be cheering him on from the front row. Of course everyone knows Labour is the Party of the NHS, we created it and we will protect it. The most pressing issue is to ensure that a winter crisis is averted. We will be asking the Government to provide additional upfront funding of £500 million for this purpose. Following this our thoughts will turn to the Leader’s speech scheduled for tomorrow. Jeremy Corbyn has inspired millions of people around the country and his conference speech will be eagerly anticipated as people look to him to offer hope and a plan for the many not the few. People in Burnley often ask me if I ever get to speak with Jeremy. Well the answer is yes in fact I have already spoken with him twice in as many days and I’m looking forward to hearing him tomorrow as he outlines our Labour plan for a better Britain. Wherever I am: Burnley, Brighton, Westminster it makes no difference I always keep the best interests of the people of Burnley and Padiham at the heart of everything that I do.
We are now bang in the middle of the Conference season and this week it is the turn of the Labour Party. As I begin to write this...