Ways and Means — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:16 pm on 20th March 2015.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 12:16 pm, 20th March 2015

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Ruffley. I have the highest regard for him, as I am sure he knows, and I am sorry that he is leaving the House. He has given another eloquent and solid performance on behalf of his Chancellor and his party, but he will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with his analysis, as I shall outline in a few moments.

Many previous Budgets have taken until Sunday to unravel. It was to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he immediately spotted the big flaw in this Budget. In his response, he cited the Red Book to identify that the level of cuts impacting on the public sector over the next three years will be as deep as the cuts during the past five years. Many Labour colleagues have already referred to that in the debates during the past two days.

In fairness, there were some redeeming features, as there are in every Budget. The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds mentioned that that was true of Budgets during Labour’s period in office. Those features include the initiatives on savings and the extra money for air ambulances, while bashing the banks is always popular—the hon. Gentleman is going back to the City, but that measure has gone down well with the public—and the measures on tax evasion and avoidance clearly have universal support.

There are, however, clear dividing lines between the parties. In east London, the big ticket issues are homes, training, the national health service and the public sector in general, including the issue of local authority budgets. I and my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali, whom I am happy to see in her place, have not only assisted the campaign to save the local health service for the past 18 months, but are still trying to get a clearer picture of the budget for primary care in our part of east London as well as that for east London generally. There is real concern about the funding of health centres right across the country, and it is not clear whether the Budget will offer them any help.

On adult training and further and higher education, Tower Hamlets college has had a 25% in its budget during the past four years, and only this week there has been an announcement about another 24% cut. That will have a huge impact on adult training in east London; it will certainly do so in my constituency. The announcement has united the Association of Colleges, the University and College Union and the National Union of Students, as well as students themselves. The fact that such an alliance should come together demonstrates that the issue is very serious, and it is not just restricted to east London. My hon. Friend Mr Cunningham raised it in an oral question yesterday, showing that other parts of the country are affected as well.

That announcement will also mean further cuts to English as a second language training, which is hugely important to east London. Last year, it was found that English for speakers of other languages training has already been reduced by 40% over the past five years. Such training is critical to train and educate people with English language challenges so that they can compete in the jobs market.

On policing, there seems to be something of a conundrum. Although crime figures are down, my office has supplied me with Library statistics that show that there were 825 police officers in Tower Hamlets in 2010 and 627 this year, which is almost 200 fewer. Theft is up by 8%, burglary by 24%, sexual offences by 28% and robbery by 33%. Notwithstanding the Government’s success in making efficiency savings in police budgets, at some point the pendulum is going to swing too far. We are already perilously close to that point, and, sadly, it looks like police budgets are going to be squeezed even more.

There is consensus on and support for the benefits cap, but it throws up some anomalies. In east London, a number of families live in private sector rented accommodation and are charged market rents, and the benefits cap has a disproportionate effect on their ability to live. That is one example of how a universal benefit cap affects families in London. The shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, outlined Labour’s proposals for a fairer rents policy and guaranteed rents over three years, which will go down very well in east London and elsewhere.

A number of colleagues, certainly the Chancellor, made great play of the minimum wage. Government Members have said a lot about Opposition predictions of the number of jobs that would be lost through austerity. We say that if there had been no austerity, we could have made progress a lot sooner, because when the coalition came to power the economy had been growing for a couple of months. I remind the Conservative Members that when Labour introduced the national minimum wage, they were very confident that it would cost 1 million jobs. That prediction proved to be entirely wrong. For many of us, the living wage is even more important than the minimum wage.

In Canary Wharf in my constituency there are some fantastically well-paid bankers, but 105,000 people work there, many of whom are in low-paid jobs in cleaning, security and retail. I am happy to report that the majority of companies on the wharf have a living wage policy. I would like to see the Government promoting the living wage far more aggressively than they currently do. I am sure that a Labour Government would bring that aggressiveness to bear in due course.