We introduced a cap on charges for stakeholder pensions and the automatic enrolment brought in policies for which Labour had already legislated. We are proud of automatic enrolment, but we disagree with the changes that this Government introduced, which mean fewer people are benefiting from automatic enrolment
—1.5 million fewer, two thirds of them women. That is a real lost opportunity to ensure that those people who should be saving are actually saving.
What this Secretary of State and the Government he speaks for simply do not understand is that their failure to make work pay and to deliver a recovery that raises living standards for all is the root cause of their failure to control social security spending and balance the books as they promised. They have spent £25 billion more than they planned and their receipts from income tax and national insurance have, as has been pointed out, fallen short of forecasts by a staggering £97 billion over the life of this Parliament.
It is because of that failure that, in order to deliver his objective of a large surplus in the next Parliament, the Chancellor has now committed to even deeper spending cuts over the next three years than we have seen over the past five years. The Office for Budget Responsibility confirms that these plans will mean
“a much sharper squeeze on real spending in 2016-17 and 2017-18 than anything seen over the past five years”,
“a sharp acceleration in the pace of implied real cuts to day-to-day spending on public services”.
My right hon. Friend Ed Ballsand my hon. Friend Chris Leslie have highlighted the threat this poses to police, defence and social care. Is it not the truth that the Chancellor’s extreme fiscal plan can be delivered only by putting our NHS at risk or imposing yet another Tory rise in VAT? Although it is hard to see how this Government can make the extra £12 billion-worth of cuts to social security spending when they have failed to deliver any savings in social security so far, these cuts could not be delivered without inflicting unimaginable hardship on low-paid workers, children in poverty, disabled people or carers.
So for this Government, this empty Budget will be a fitting epitaph. What of this Secretary of State who wanted to take his place in history as the compassionate Conservative who reformed welfare? His time is up and his record is clear: major reforms undelivered or descending into costly chaos; food banks in every town and child poverty back on the rise; more and more spending on in-work benefits as more and more working people find their wages do not cover the rent. No wonder the OBR says that the Government are guilty of “optimism bias”.