[Un-allotted Half Day] — Future Government Spending

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 4th March 2015.

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Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:40 pm, 4th March 2015

It is a pleasure to wind up the debate today and to speak in favour of our Opposition motion. This gives me a chance to describe in plain terms the gulf between this Government’s spending plans and the approach that will be taken by a future Labour Government. It also gives me the opportunity to make it crystal clear that we reject the failed austerity plans that were set out in the Government’s autumn statement.

The Minister and the Chancellor were patting themselves on the back in the media this morning, congratulating themselves on their success. That just shows how out of touch the Government are. As my hon. Friend Chris Leslie said earlier, the Chancellor told the “Today” programme this morning:

“We’ve got on top of our debts and deficits.”

My hon. Friend made it quite clear that they have not. As he and many other Labour Members made clear, this Government have failed on their own terms. In 2010, the Chancellor said that he would balance the current budget by 2014-15, but in the first nine months of this financial year, the gap was £74 billion. The Chancellor has had five years, and he has failed. We cannot afford to give him another five. That point has been made time and again this afternoon.

Let us look at some more evidence. As I have said, the Government have missed their current budget target by £74 billion. In addition, the social security bill is £25 billion more than planned, and tax credits have risen, subsidising the low-wage economy. The number of working people receiving housing benefit is up two thirds, and tax receipts are much lower than expected. The Government have failed on the deficit, on the debt and on living standards.

Some Conservative Members seemed rather excited about today’s Institute for Fiscal Studies report, but if we look at it in more detail, we can see what it actually says. It states that people are worse off today than they were in 2010. As we have heard this afternoon, the real problem is that more people are scraping by, from day to day and week to week, in poorly paid jobs or on exploitative zero-hours contracts. A number of Members have described what it is like for their constituents who have to wait for a text message on a Monday morning to tell them whether they will have any paid work that week. That is no way for them to live their lives. It does not enable them to have any sort of quality of life or to balance their household budget. There is nothing in that for the Government to be proud of.

A number of Members have eloquently argued that at the heart of the Government’s failure is their ideological obsession with shrinking the state. That seems to be their true aim, superseding all else. From what we have heard from the Government this afternoon, it is clear that they will continue to keep chipping away at that, even as the ground crumbles beneath us.

We have heard some powerful and passionate speeches from Labour Members this afternoon. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for Corby (Andy Sawford), for Preston (Mark Hendrick) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain), all of whom are powerful champions for their constituents. My hon. Friends were speaking up for the people who have suffered under this Government, laying out in clear terms what the impact has been on families right across the UK and talking about their experiences of dealing with the zero-hours contracts, the low pay, being on agency work, and the impact of cuts on local government, which has affected and in some cases decimated local services. They spoke about the sense they got from their constituents that living standards simply have not improved for them; any recovery has not yet reached the kitchen table of our constituents.

My hon. Friends spoke this afternoon about the need to do more to tackle tax avoidance. They spoke about the inequities of the Government’s lack of action to tackle the tax dodgers while imposing the hated bedroom tax. Labour Members made it very clear that our constituents cannot face another five years of Tory Government and that we need a change. As for the consequences of five more years of the Tories, they are still intent on doing more damage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East reminded us in his opening speech, and as hon. Members said at various points in the debate, five more years would take us back to a spending level as a percentage of national income that was last seen in the 1930s, before there was an NHS, when kids left school at 14 and when life expectancy was 60.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has been much quoted by Government Members this afternoon, that would necessitate undeliverable and nigh unthinkable cuts of more than £50 billion. It would, as the IFS said, represent:

“Spending cuts on a colossal scale”— which would leave—

“the role and shape of the state… changed beyond recognition.”

So let us make no mistake: this is not about fixing the economy; it is about remodelling the role of the state This Government’s plans will do real and lasting damage in the long term, wreaking havoc in public services, decimating our skills and infrastructure, and undermining our competitiveness.—[Interruption.] I hear Government Members shouting, “Rubbish”, but they clearly have not listened to the testimonies of Opposition Members, who so eloquently, passionately and powerfully laid out the impact of this Government’s policies and actions on their constituents.