Yesterday, the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box proclaiming that this is a Budget for the “next generation”. Beyond the headlines what we heard was that debt is higher than it has ever been; that growth forecasts have been cut; and that he is missing his own targets for reducing the deficit. What we heard is the Chancellor admit that he is failing. He may have tried to add some fizz to his speech, but we know it was just sputterings of more cuts, more cuts and more cuts. These are cuts to the police, cuts to youth services, cuts to support for disabled people and cuts to the fire service. He has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for six years and no matter how much he wants to, he simply cannot blame Labour any more.
The Chancellor was quick to proclaim his Budget for the “next generation” but there is one glaring omission with that: he has forgotten this generation. To be honest, he has even forgotten the next generation, too. Research by the World Health Organisation puts us way down a list of 42 countries, with only the children of Poland and Macedonia being less satisfied with life than the British. The report says that our teenagers are suffering high levels of stress and have big worries about their health. They feel pressured by school work, and school-related stress is on the rise. What is the Government’s answer? It is: turning every school into an academy; removing democratic control; extending the school day; removing collective bargaining for teachers; and getting rid of governors. In short, the Government are restructuring a whole system, adding to teachers’ concerns and stress. We know that the Government do not have a good track record in top-down reorganisations. Have they learnt nothing? Clearly they have not learned, as this is another top down reorganisation that nobody voted for; they have no mandate. These proposed changes will turn our education system into the wild west, with everyone doing their own thing and with the Department for Education running it all—it is ridiculous. Will academies be able to run selections? Will we see a mass return of the 11-plus? This reform will increase the cost of education, make our country more unequal and embed unfairness throughout our education system. This reform takes us backwards, not forwards. Let it go on the record now that I will fight this every step of the way.
It is not just in education where we find problems, as the Government’s failures are letting young people down all over the place, with one example being on housing benefit. The Government have said they will cut housing benefit for 18 to 21-years-olds, without any consideration being given to the needs of any of those young people, what they might be escaping and what their situation is. What are the Government doing? This benefit is an essential safety net. Removing it just increases the risk of homelessness and damages these people’s prospects of finding work in the future.
We are also seeing the death of youth services, which provide—or should I say provided— a vital safety net. Unison has reported that at least £60 million was cut from youth service budgets between 2012 and 2014, which meant that more than 2,000 youth workers have disappeared since 2010. But that is not all, because on top of this more than 350 youth centres have closed. What is going on? If we look at what happened from 2013 to 2014 alone, we see figures from the Department for Education showing a cut of more than £103 million from youth services. Children’s social care—cut; family support services—cut; adoption services—cut; youth justice teams—cut; Sure Start centres—cut; child protection services—cut; and looked-after children services—cut. The list goes on and on. More and more young people are falling through the gaps left by a lack of services. The choices that this Government are making are damaging young people’s life chances, worsening their mental health, and increasing the possibility of them getting into trouble, as they are open to abuse and potentially at risk of becoming involved in serious youth violence.
Quite simply, the impact of the Government cutting council budgets is putting children’s lives at risk. Children are dying on our streets because councils can no longer afford to fund crucial services. That makes me angry, but what makes me really angry is the fact that, in the eyes of many young people, all MPs are the same, and that cannot be further from the truth. This is a shocking Budget, as it harms the country’s young, but it does not have to be like that. Young people do have the power to change things at the ballot box. More young people need to register to vote and to use that vote. Labour will invest in our young people, and we will do so not because we want headlines, but because we know that they are the future.