On March 8th, International Women’s day the Conservative Chancellor Phillip Hammond delivered a Budget which will hit many across Salford and Eccles hard.
It did not address the problems created by seven years of Tory failure. There was nothing to deal with the living standards crisis, it won’t solve the extreme state of emergency in our NHS and social care system, and it doesn’t do enough to build a fair economy for all.
It continues the unjust tax giveaways for those at the top, while hitting self-employed workers on low and middle earners for £2 billion.
And, after years of cuts disproportionately affecting women, this Budget also did nothing to address that inequality. Not a penny for the many women across Salford and Eccles affected by the increase in the state pension age.
Real pay is still lower than before the crash, the National Living Wage was revised down again, in 2020. It is forecast not to hit the £9 promised by the Tories, let alone match Labour’s plan for a £10 an hour Real Living Wage.
What is worse, six million people earn less than the living wage, and four million children are in poverty - two-thirds of them in households in which at least one parent works.
On Social care, the Tory announcement of £2bn over 3 years doesn’t provide social care with the funding it needs. The Government already cut £4.6bn in the last parliament and as the Kings Fund says we need at least a £2bn injection now to stabilise social not £2bn spread over three years.
On the NHS, there was no money to deal with the crisis facing hospitals. The Tories have promised a small amount of capital spend which doesn’t compensate for the fact that in the Autumn Statement last year they cut £1.2bn from capital.
There’s a shortfall of £5bn in NHS maintenance which hasn’t even been addressed.
Bizarrely what they also announced was capital spend for A&Es next winter. This is a nonsense as there aren’t even enough GPs in the system as it is, A&Es are in crisis and waiting lists are soaring. And there was no mention of mental health at all. This simply isn’t good enough!
The Government’s changes to National Insurance are staggeringly unfair. They are set to raise £2bn from self-employed low and middle earners, but with nothing to improve their conditions, nor anything to support those trying to set up and manage their own business. The whole point of lower NI for self employed people was because they did not receive the same benefits as employed people.
I agree completely with the comments made by the Federation of Small Businesses who stated yesterday that “this decision undermines the Government's own mission for the UK to be the best place to start and grow a business, and it drives up the cost of doing business.
What is worse is that the Conservative manifesto pledge was very clearly not to increase national insurance contributions full stop. This was on their election materials and could not have been clearer. They have broken this pledge.
On business rates, the relief set out is welcome but it contains glaring ommissions and simply does not go far enough. I urge the Government to conisder carefully Labour's five point plan on business rates which promised to set up an Emergency Relief Fund, undo Tory restrictions on the appeals process, bring forward the shift from RPI to CPI indexation, and remove new cat 1, 2 and 4 plant and machinery from valuations, as well as a fundamental rethink of business rates in the longer term.
Today the Government must rise to Labour’s challenge by taking action to defuse the ticking time bomb of business rates and bringing forward additional transitional relief for small and medium sized firms.
The budget also highlighted yet again the fact that productivity growth has been stagnating for years. Yet from infrastructure to R&D, Britain languishes well below OECD averages for the amount of GDP reinvested in our economy. Our transport networks are inadequate, especially outside London, and our digital infrastructure remains patchy, with too many businesses still unable to access superfast broadband or 4G.
Without a big push in R&D, Britain will struggle to remain competitive outside Europe. Yet with interest rates for government are currently close to all-time lows, the economic case for this budget to include a major programme of government investment in infrastructure and research was overwhelming. Its just a shame the Government does not have increasing prouctivity at the top of its agenda.
This was quite simply a budget built on unfairness.
If the Government was serious about fairness and serious about letting cities like Salford prosper they would tackle unfairness head on, rebalance, support industry and invest in our economy…….but yesterdays budget suggests to me that they really could not care less.