It is a pleasure to follow Mr Yeo, especially as he says it was his valedictory speech. Perhaps I should start by paying tribute to him and his many years of service to this House, the country and his constituents in South Suffolk.
I am afraid that people in Croydon North feel very let down by the Budget because it does next to nothing to tackle any of their problems. On Wednesday, the Chancellor told people that they have never had it so good, but that is not what my constituents have been telling me. On average, working people are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government, and that includes people right across Croydon.
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms that tax and benefit changes—the huge increase in VAT, for example, which the Government brought in straight after the election, despite promising that they would not do so—have left most families worse off than in 2010. However, the super-wealthy have not felt the effects of such changes, because the Tories took time out from piling the pain on hard-working families to give their millionaire friends a tax cut while heaping up the tax misery on everyone else.
In Croydon North, we are desperately worried about our local NHS services. Croydon gets around 10% less health service funding per head of population than the average, and there is no urgent plan to correct that. As a result, we have a desperate shortage of GPs, which means that people can wait up to three weeks to see a doctor if they fall ill. It has also led to unacceptable waiting times at the local A and E department at Croydon University hospital. Our A and E was one of the many emergency departments across the country that recently declared a major internal crisis, with ambulances queuing up outside and sick patients being left on trolleys in corridors for hours. Quite simply, that is unacceptable, but under this Government the problem has got worse and worse. The petition that I launched calling for investment to improve our local health services gathered thousands of signatures within days, but the Budget has done nothing to put the problems right. Tragically, the Tories’ plans for ever more extreme spending cuts in future mean that things will get even worse if the Tories get the chance to continue after the general election.
Croydon has the biggest shortage of school places in the country, and parents were looking to this Budget to help resolve that, but we heard nothing. The Government have spent more than £240 million opening free schools in areas that have no shortage of places, but tell children in Croydon North that there is not enough money to provide the permanent school places that they need. This is simply a case of the Tories putting ideology before common sense, and it is letting down children in my constituency who deserve better.
That has been a big increase in the number of working people in Croydon forced by low pay to claim benefits as a result of this Government’s economic policies. Labour knows that Britain succeeds only when working families succeed, and that is why I support Labour’s plans to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour, to incentivise employers to pay the living wage, to ban unfair zero-hours contracts, and to offer 25 hours of free child care for three and four-year-olds to help parents get back to work and earn a living. That is what people in Croydon need: a better plan that puts them first, not the Tory dogma of poverty wages and a grinding downward spiral of welfare dependency.
Croydon was hit hard by the riots in 2011. We saw the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London walking around in the days afterwards and promising that they would help to keep people safer, but instead they have closed every single police station in Croydon North and cut the number of police on our streets compared with the number when they were elected. Now, with the Chancellor’s new plans for more severe cuts in the future, police numbers will be cut even harder, putting people at even greater risk from criminals. This is unacceptable. Serious forms of violence in Croydon are rising: violent assault is up, domestic violence is up and rape is up. Surely this is no time to be taking more police off our streets.
The only thing we can say about this Budget is that it makes the choice in May much clearer. That choice is between a Tory plan that has failed working people in Croydon North and Labour’s plan, which will put working families first and save our national health service.