This is a budget that does little or, in many cases, nothing for the millions in the lowest income groups in this country. Unsurprisingly, the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said:
“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth.”
It is a lost opportunity to help the 13 million people on low incomes, who are unlikely to see any benefit from these measures. That assessment fits in with the analysis of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which shows that more than 300,000 children will be pushed back into absolute poverty over the course of this Government and that, on present trends, 900,000 children will be returned to relative poverty by 2020. That will undo everything that the last Labour Government did to tackle poverty. The Budget sets a cap on overall social security spending while doing little or nothing to tackle the drivers of rising social security spending, especially among working people who are being squeezed by rising housing costs.
I want to talk about two policy areas that lie behind these failures. As we have heard, households have suffered the longest period of falling living standards and squeezed wages since the 1850s. We have had 50 consecutive months of a wage squeeze below inflation. I came into politics because I was driven by concerns about unemployment, and the growth in job numbers is undoubtedly good news, but it would be completely wrong to see the growth that has been achieved in recent months as an unalloyed success story. Among other things, one third of a million families are now working fewer hours than they want, with more people being forced into part-time employment. The latest job figures show 211,000 people entering self-employment, which represents a large proportion of the recent jobs growth. Self-employment is undoubtedly a good thing for many people, but one problem is that it is strongly associated with low pay. Low pay is part of the crisis that is underpinning the fall in living standards.