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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:57 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 8:57 pm, 13th March 2017

It is a great pleasure to follow Robert Courts. I warmly endorse much of what he said about investment in technical skills and in our industries.

Today, we are debating the elements of the Budget that relate to Britain’s place in the world. I want to start by saying that I found it absolutely extraordinary that, apart from a passing preliminary reference, the Chancellor had absolutely nothing to say in his Budget speech about the most significant event affecting our position in the world, which is of course Brexit. We know that Brexit is bound to bring economic shocks and economic instability and that it will create economic uncertainty, including in relation to the divorce settlement itself. The European Parliament has been very clear that that settlement has to include our meeting our financial obligations, whatever the Foreign Secretary and the Government may believe.

In my constituency, people are already feeling the effect of rising prices as a result of the devalued pound. More importantly for a manufacturing and exporting constituency such as mine, local businesses have highlighted to me the impact on them of the rising cost of imports. In that context, it is deeply worrying that the Government seem so determined to pull us out of the single market at all costs, while leaving their intentions about our engagement in a customs union quite murky. Failing to protect our maximum access to the single market will be deeply damaging for the many businesses in my constituency that have a long and deep trading relationship with the European Union.

I of course support measures to tackle exploitation in the labour market, which can be exacerbated by the free movement of workers, but as my right hon. Friend Dame Rosie Winterton said, the insecure position of those in low-paid, unstable unemployment is not addressed at all in this Budget. As many hon. Members have said, for the self-employed, the position is particularly troubling. I agree that there should be consistency in treatment both of contributions and benefits between the self-employed and those in employment, and that we should crack down on the bogus self-employment that is really employment in disguise, but it is not right for the Government to put the cart before the horse in a way that will be unfair to many self-employed people by increasing their contributions without fully aligning their benefits with those in paid work.

I am particularly troubled by those self-employed people in low-paid self-employment, the group the OBR identifies as rising fastest. Some of those will be the newly self-employed, who in practice are in low-paid self-employment because they cannot find the permanent employment that many would prefer. I hope that in developing this measure—and I understand that the Government will now take a little time to think more carefully about it—Ministers will publish a detailed impact assessment of who will be affected, in which industrial sectors and how the effect will vary across regions, age groups, and how long people have spent in self-employment.

In the context of this debate’s theme of Britain in the world, I also express my concern at the Budget’s failure to address our environmental obligations. Last week, the Chancellor missed the opportunity to announce measures that would have reduced the number of diesel vehicles on our roads, but it has been estimated that nearly 40,000 early deaths a year can be linked to air pollution in the UK, and the cost to the Treasury is more than £27 billion. It is therefore disappointing that the Chancellor did not announce an increase in vehicle excise duty for new diesel vehicles, or have anything to say about a scrappage scheme.

On our ability to compete in the world, I want to say something about the education and skills announcements in the Budget. I agree with the Chancellor about their importance to improving our productivity, but the proposed back to work support of £5 million is frankly derisory. I am dismayed by the announcements on schools—£320 million on new free and selective schools, increasing to £655 million in 2021-22, but only £216 million for all other schools combined. That funding is only for the next three years with no additional funding in the long term. Trafford schools already face losing £443 per pupil according to teaching and support unions, but the Government are to pour more money into new free schools that will educate only a minority of our children, with no evidence that they will raise standards or the attainment of our most disadvantaged kids.

To add insult to injury, there will be money for children on free school meals to travel to selective schools—that amounts to fewer than 3% of children. In Trafford, parents of children with special educational needs have to pay for home to school transport. Last week, a primary school serving a disadvantaged intake in my constituency was unable to take up the offer of a free health and wellbeing session at Lancashire cricket club because it could not afford the bus fare to get there. It is iniquitous that transport to school should be prioritised only for those going to selective schools.

I do not see this Budget as one that works for everyone. It is a Budget that will leave us poorer, more isolated, and more divided, especially for those of my constituents in low-paid work, who are just about managing, if they are lucky, but more likely struggling to get by. In betraying the next generation, it will do nothing to enhance Britain’s status in the world.