Briefly let me start by welcoming another Chancellor to his new job. I believe the new Chancellor may be the first person to hold that role whose father, like my own, was a bus driver. So I would like to welcome him to his new job, but I hope that what they say is true: you wait ages for one son of a bus driver to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, only for another to come along pretty soon after.
Mr Speaker, I’m afraid that’s probably the end of what the Chancellor and I have in common. Let me thank the Chancellor for abiding by the convention of providing me with a copy of his statement. Could I ask him, though, to take a message back to the person who obviously drafted the statement? His political master, Mr Dominic Cummings. The man who cancels the Chancellor’s own speeches, sacks his staff without telling him and has them escorted off the premises by an armed police officer.
Could he tell Mr Cummings: Do not insult the intelligence of the British people. The people will see today’s statement as the grubby electioneering stunt that it is. This is not a Spending Review as we know it. It is straight out of the Lynton Crosby handbook: Opinion Poll Politics.
The Tories have checked what are the top three or four issues in the polls and cynically judged just how little money they have to throw around to try and neutralise the concerns people have about those issues.
To come here and then try to fool us with references to people’s priorities is beyond irony. When did these extremist right-wing Tories ever put the people first? Were they putting the people first when they froze child benefit, year after year? And introduced the brutal universal credit regime? The result this summer – according to the Childhood Trust – was children scavenging in bins for food because they didn’t have free school meals in the summer holidays.
Were they putting people first when they cut council budgets and prevented over one million elderly and disabled people getting the social care they needed? Were they putting the people first when they cut social service budgets so much we have record numbers of children coming into care and 155 women a day turned away from refuges?
We are expected to believe that these Tories, who for years have voted for harsh, brutal austerity, have had some Damascene conversion. They treat our people with such contempt. Announcements have been dripped out over the last week or so. All designed to give the impression of a spending spree. Announcements dictated by No 10 and meekly accepted by a Chancellor too weak to conduct a full multi-year Spending Review – even before the Government’s majority disappeared yesterday. We have seen the so-called headroom which the Chancellor’s predecessor had claimed was needed to prepare for No Deal Brexit, spent instead on preparing for a General Election.
We all know the Chancellor may not be in his job very long. Maybe that’s why he felt the need to rush out a Spending Round based on figures from March rather than waiting for the Office for Budget Responsibility to tell him officially what the rest of us have known for some time; that the economy – after nine years of Tory austerity – is in bad shape and getting worse. A full fiscal event would have meant new economic forecasts, the need for a fiscal framework to give departments security over the Parliament, allowing them to plan ahead after years of cuts.
Instead we get this sham of a Spending Review. They are claiming to be against austerity – after years of voting for it. They are claiming to be using “headroom” which he knows has largely disappeared. And yet they are still failing to deliver a real end to austerity.
Let’s take a look at some of the announcements that the Chancellor has confirmed.
For schools, the Chancellor has announced new spending of £1.8 billion next year. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously estimated that it would cost £3.8 billion this year alone to reverse the cuts that have been made. Was the Chancellor aware, when drawing up his Spending Round, that the Department for Education budget as a whole has been slashed by almost £10 billion in real terms since 2010? The reality is that heads will still be sending out begging letters and teachers will still buying basic materials for their classes.
£700 million was announced for children with special needs and disabilities. But does the Chancellor not know that the Local Government Association has found that councils already face a funding shortfall for SEN children of £1.2 billion by 2021? The reality is that children will still be left vulnerable and in need.
Further Education colleges are to get a one-off £400 million. Does the Chancellor think they should be grateful for that, after £3.3 billion of cuts since 2010? And the reality is that the economy will still be desperately in need of sufficient skills training.
The Government’s announcement of £1.8billion spending for the NHS has already been exposed as largely a re-announcement.
Any announcement on GP waiting times is likely to turn out to be totally undeliverable following the loss of almost 600 full-time-equivalent GPs over the last year.
Any new money for local Government today will be a drop in the ocean compared to the 60% of their funding which councils have lost in recent years.
What effect does the Chancellor estimate his announcement today will have on the crisis in children’s services after a 29% drop in Government funding over eight years and vulnerable children left at risk?
He mentioned just now £54 million of additional spending for tackling homelessness, but the Local Government Association has said that there is a funding gap of £100 million this year. The £200 million he mentions for bus services is less than a third of the £645m that has been cut from bus services since 2010. The Government has claimed they are planning to recruit 20,000 more police officers but can the Chancellor tell us yet how many will actually be on the frontline? The last assessment was there would be only an additional 13,000 on the streets.
The Government has spoken of money to create another 10,000 prison places. Can the Chancellor tell us if they are the same 10,000 prison places? Promised by previous Justice Secretaries in 2016? And again in 2017? And 2018? How many suicides, how many assaults on staff have taken place because of cuts to prison staff? And will government ever apologise to the Prison Officers Association for ignoring their warnings of the effects of staff cuts on safety in prisons?
And those are just the areas we have heard about today. What about those forgotten in the Chancellor’s opportunist one-year spending round? What about the real structural reforms to address the social care crisis which we have been waiting for – for years now?
A sticking plaster of a one-off billion pounds will leave the sector in the sorry state where it is now. With 1.4 million not getting the care they need and 87 people dying each day while waiting for care.
I understand that the Chancellor’s mates the bankers were pushing the other day for more tax cuts and less regulation. I hope he sent them packing. Does the Chancellor have any words for the thousands suffering from the brutal rollout of Universal Credit?
Traditionally the Spending Review concentrates on Department Expenditure Limits rather than social security, but there is no reason why the Chancellor couldn’t have signalled the Government’s intent – at least – to end the misery and hardship their policy is causing. Most shockingly of all, the Chancellor has given no sign that he understands the scale of climate emergency facing us and the urgency with which a significant Government response is needed. He mentions the issue but allocates miniscule amounts of funding incapable of addressing this existential threat.
I hope that members will remember those who got no comfort from today’s announcements in a few weeks If the Government pushes ahead with their plans for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy. I hope members will remember all those were deemed unimportant by the Chancellor. Because come any election campaign, you can be sure the Labour Party will – and the voters will – remember the nine years of austerity and today’s failure act. Just as we remember being told there was no alternative. There was no money.
We all know the lines. We’ve heard them enough times now. They weren’t true then, and they aren’t true now. The majority of economists have always agreed that there was another approach the Government could have taken. And we have always argued that austerity was a political choice. Not an economic necessity. As recently as March, the Party opposite ploughed on saying there was no alternative. To look at them now suddenly proclaiming an end to austerity. After 120,000 excess deaths, after 100 billion taken out of the economy, after the worst decade for wage growth since the mid-19th century. Just because there may be an election around the corner. And after all that, to deliver a pathetic sum to spending departments which are on their knees is just adding insult to injury. A Government not just callous and uncaring but hypocritical as well. This isn’t a Government, it’s a racket.
Pretending to end austerity when they do nothing of the sort. Pretending to plan ahead while they plot a No Deal Brexit that would devastate parts of our economy. A Chancellor and a Prime Minister with – as my Right Honourable Friend said yesterday – no mandate, no morals and no majority. Trying to distract us from the crumbling public services and stagnating wages they have created after a decade in charge with fantasy promises of a Brexit deal they knew they couldn’t deliver and weren’t even trying to negotiate.
A short-lived Government that will go down in history for its unique combination of extremism and bumbling incompetence. A Government that betrays the very people it is meant to serve. A Government that will never be forgiven but will soon be forgotten.