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Since the Budget statement last week, this Government have been heckled by headteachers, nobbled by national insurance and slated by the self-employed, as they blatantly break manifesto promises. The Chancellor appeared to have spent far too much time polishing up his stand-up routine and far too little on the finer details of what his party promised in their 2015 manifesto. The fact that the Prime Minister has now been forced to announce that the increase in national insurance contributions for the self-employed will be pushed back to the autumn shows a Government in disarray and does nothing to give security and certainty to working people. The Federation of Small Businesses is scathing about the national insurance rise, saying that it should be seen for what it is—a £1 billion tax hike on those who set themselves up in business.
The Chancellor claims that the economy grew more than expected last year, but this does not mean that everyone is better off. Indeed, the growth in the economy is on the back of a rise in employment coupled with a shift towards lower-paid jobs, with this growth largely driven by rises in self-employment and part-time jobs. In fact, while in most other countries, including France and Germany, both the economy and wages have grown, the United Kingdom is the only big, advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded. For the one in five public sector workers in the UK whose average pay is now more than £1,000 lower in real terms than it was in 2010, the Chancellor’s boast of growth in the economy is cold comfort for those who are not “just about managing”, but are really struggling to cope with a constant fall in living standards.
The Chancellor’s statement was remarkable more for what it did not say than for what it did. There was barely a mention of Brexit, there was nothing for WASPI women, and there was no mention at all of the previous Chancellor’s failure to deliver a promised surplus by 2020. Mr Osborne now seems to be devoting himself to creating his own personal surplus, having failed to deliver on his promises for the UK economy. He was a Chancellor who used to talk about strivers and shirkers; the current Chancellor is now attacking the self-employed strivers and shirking his own manifesto promises.
The £2 billion for social care is welcome, but that money is needed now to address the crisis in social care, rather than being spread over three years. Moreover, it is well short of the £4.6 billion shortfall in social care funding in the last Parliament.
As the Chancellor was at pains to point out, Budget day coincided with International Women’s Day. It is a sad fact that women are bearing the brunt of Tory austerity. Since 2010, 86% of the Tories’ net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit measures will have come from women. Nothing in the Budget will reverse that trend, and, in yet another example of women being unfairly hit by this Government, the Chancellor has once again failed to address the hardship caused to millions of women by poorly handled changes in the state pension age.
As for our young people, the Chancellor claimed:
“We on this side of the House will not saddle our children with ever-increasing debts.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 811.]
This from a party that trebled tuition fees, scrapped education maintenance allowance, abolished maintenance grants and NHS bursaries, and denies the so-called national living wage to those below the age of 25.
The Chancellor told a lot of jokes last week, but people in my constituency are not laughing. This is not a Budget for women, for the young or for business entrepreneurs, and it does not work for everyone.