Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 1:33 pm, 8th March 2017

This is a Budget of utter complacency about the state of our economy, utter complacency about the crisis facing our public services, and complacency about the reality of daily life for millions of people in this country. It is entirely out of touch with the reality of life for millions.

This morning, over 1 million workers will have woken up not knowing whether they will work today, tomorrow or next week. Millions more workers know that their next pay packet will not be enough to make ends meet. Millions are struggling to pay rent or a mortgage, with private renters on average paying nearly half their income in rent. Yesterday, more than 3,000 people in this country will have queued up at food banks to feed themselves and their families. Last night, over 4,000 people will have slept rough on the streets of this country. And the Chancellor makes his boast about a strong economy.

But who is reaping the rewards of this economy? For millions, it is simply not working. It is not working for the NHS, which is in its worst crisis ever, with funding being cut next year. It is not working for our children’s schools, where pupil funding continues to be cut. It is not working for our neighbourhoods, which have lost 20,000 police officers, leaving the force in a perilous state in many parts of the country. It is not working for our public services and the dedicated people who work in them—nurses, firefighters and teachers; no pay rise in seven years for them—or for people with disabilities, who are twice as likely to be living in poverty, and whom this Government are denying the support that the courts say they need.

There are 4 million children living in poverty, and that figure will rise by another 1 million in the coming years. The economy is not working for the thousands of young people who cannot get anywhere to live, cannot get on the housing ladder and, in many cases, cannot leave the parental home. Parents of grown-up children whom they would expect to be debt-free by now are having to bail out student debt, or are trying to help them with a deposit to get housing, if they can manage it. A million elderly people—I will come on to this again—are being denied the social care that they need due to the £4.6 billion of cuts made by the Chancellor’s Government, with the support of the Lib Dems, over the past five years. The economy is not working for pensioners, for whom the security of the triple lock remains in doubt.

This is the reality facing Britain today: a Government cutting services and the living standards of the many, to continue to fund the tax cuts of the few. Some people are doing very well under the Conservative Government. The chief executives of big companies are now paid 180 times more than the average worker and being taxed less. Big corporations are making higher profits and being taxed less. Speculators are making more and being taxed less. The wealthiest families are taxed less due to cuts in inheritance tax. All that adds up to £70 billion of tax giveaways over the next five years to those who need it the least. This Government have the wrong priorities.

Let me give three examples. The pain of losing a child is unimaginable for most of us, but for those who do lose a child, their pain is worsened by the stress of having to pay for their own child’s funeral. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for her campaign to establish a children’s funeral fund, but far from establishing such a fund, which would cost just £10 million a year, the Government are instead cutting support for bereaved families—three in four bereaved families will receive less. That is utterly heartless.

Despite generous tax giveaways at the top end, there was no money either for the 160,000 people with disabilities whom a court has ruled deserve a higher rate of personal independence payments. These are people with debilitating mental health conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Prime Minister came to office talking about fighting “burning injustices”. Less than nine months later, she seems to have forgotten all about them, because none of them are being fought today.

Low pay holds people back and is holding our country back. We are the only major developed country in which economic growth has returned yet workers are worse off. Wages are still below 2008 levels. Inflation is rising and there is an urgent need to address the pressure on people’s incomes. Personal debts are rising massively and there are rising energy bills, and the costs of the weekly shop, transport and housing are all rising.

The Chancellor faced a series of tests as to whether he would stand on the same side as the people or not. He could have raised the minimum wage to the level of the living wage—the real living wage of £10 an hour—as we, the Labour party, have pledged to do. That would give a pay rise to 6 million people in this country, 62% of whom are women. He failed to do that.

Since 2010, millions of public sector workers have endured a pay freeze and then a pay cap. The dedicated public servants who keep our services going have lost over 9% of their real wages, or will have done by 2020. The Chancellor could have ended the public sector pay cap, as we have pledged to do, and given a pay rise to the 5 million dedicated public servants who we all rely on—day in, day out—in our hospitals, our health service in general and our local government. He failed to do that. It is an insult to say that they deserve falling living standards when we all know that those in the public sector are working harder than ever, covering the jobs of those who have gone.

There is a crisis, too, in job security. Millions of workers do not know whether they will be working from one day to the next. Millions of workers do not know how many hours they will be working this week or next week. Just imagine what it is like to try to plan your life if you do not know what your income is going to be from one week to the next. That is the reality—[Interruption.]