It is fair to say that the Chancellor’s style is somewhat different from the bombastic approach taken by Mr Osborne, but the song sounds the same. This Chancellor’s first Budget completely decimates any notion of this being a one nation Government—whichever nation that might be. His tone when he announced the additional Barnett consequentials for the devolved nations was akin to that of a nursery teacher dishing out sweets to children. Of course we welcome the additional £350 million, but Members must excuse me if my enthusiasm is tempered by the real-terms cut of £2.9 billion over the last 10 years by a Tory Government that Scotland did not vote for.
This Budget is designed to deal with the mess that the Government and their forerunners have gotten us into. For the past seven years, this Tory Government have mishandled the economy, missed their own economic targets, and forced those with the least to pay for their right-wing ideological desires. Nothing encapsulates that better than Brexit, which the Chancellor mentioned only once in his statement. The EU argument was an internal Tory party squabble that has, over time, been visited upon the rest of the country, the consequence of which is self-imposed economic vandalism. The country now faces a situation in which the elderly, the young, the disabled, and ordinary working people will pay the price for a hard Tory Brexit.
The Prime Minister called it a red, white and blue Brexit, but the reality facing her is that there is nothing blue about it. Scotland voted remain with a clear 24 percentage-point majority. If we sit back and allow this folly to happen to us, the independent Fraser of Allander Institute predicts that a hard Tory Brexit will threaten 80,000 Scottish jobs and cost Scotland’s economy up to £11 billion a year by 2030. The Prime Minister is in receipt of “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, a document containing a set of compromise proposals to ensure that Scotland’s vote is, in part, recognised, and that we are allowed to remain in the single market, if not the EU itself. The ball is very much in the Prime Minister’s court, but if she fails to act, she can rest assured that the First Minister will not be so reticent. In shamefully failing to address Brexit, the Chancellor singularly failed to provide any answers to the problems that exiting the EU and the single market will visit upon us.
I am most disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the Budget contains no provision for the tens of thousands of disabled people whose Motability vehicles are being removed by this Government. At Prime Minister’s Questions a couple of weeks ago, I raised the case of a constituent, Mrs Margaret Gibson, who was due to lose her Motability car despite having been on the higher rate of disability living allowance for 20 years. I spoke to Margaret on Monday, and she explained that her Motability vehicle is a lifeline, and that if it was ever removed, she would be forced to become housebound. Last November, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work announced that the Government were looking at ways to enable PIP claimants to keep their vehicle pending appeal, and were exploring options to allow those not in receipt of the higher-rate mobility component of DLA access to the Motability scheme.
However, just a few days after I asked that question at PMQs, Margaret’s mobility component was restored, resulting in her being able to keep her car. Margaret was lucky, but the U-turn was purely down to the fact that I had been drawn in the PMQs raffle and was able to help her. Tens of thousands of disabled people are not so fortunate. The Chancellor had the opportunity to provide some relief to people in the same position as Margaret and many more of my constituents, but as per usual with this callous Government, we are met with deafening silence when it comes to the needs of our most vulnerable.
I am also disappointed that the Budget refused to acknowledge the pleas of the 2.6 million WASPI women. Today, those women have travelled from across the UK to make their voices heard outside Parliament. I accept that the WASPI issue is not of the Chancellor’s own making, but his continued aversion to introducing transitional arrangements to help the 2.6 million affected women, including over 8,000 in Renfrewshire, makes him as culpable as those who brought in the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts. The Tories cannot hide from this; the WASPI women and their supporters inside this place will not go away. They should do the right thing and provide relief and dignity in retirement for the millions of women who have been affected.
This Budget lays bare seven years of Tory mishandling of our public finances. It lays bare the fact that, despite all the Prime Minister’s rhetoric, those with the least will pay the highest price. The Resolution Foundation reported only this month that the Tory Government’s tax and social security policies would
“drive the biggest increase in inequality since Thatcher.”
A separate report from the IFS projected that child poverty would increase to 30% by 2021-22, and said that that is
“entirely explained by the direct impact of tax and benefit reforms”.
This Budget lays bare that the price of a hard Tory Brexit will be paid by those who have the least throughout this United Kingdom. If that is the price of staying in this dysfunctional Union, I am not buying, and neither will Scotland.