Debate resumed (Order,
Question again proposed,
(1) That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
This Government are about delivering opportunity—the opportunities that matter to ordinary working people up and down this country: the opportunity to work in a skilled, well-paying career; the opportunity to send their children to a good school; and the opportunity to contribute to a shared, fairer society, where everyone is empowered to do their best for their community.
Those ambitions are not too much for us to ask—they are not unreasonable—but the truth is that, for too long, too many people in our country have felt cut off from opportunity. They see doors open for others, but stay closed for them. What they want is the chance to show their worth and reach their potential. This Government want them to reach their potential, too, so we will work with the grain of human nature to spread opportunity to every village, town, city and region in our country and to give everyone a chance to succeed and to contribute to a strong, united nation.
A strong economy is a vital part of that mission. A strong economy provides the careers and jobs that equip people with financial independence, protect them by providing financial security over the course of their life, and fill them with a sense of self-worth—the knowledge that we all have a role and a valued place at the heart of our society. A strong economy is at the heart of how people can contribute to our country as a whole.
This Government are in the business of building a strong economy and creating great careers and jobs—over two million jobs since 2010. This year, there are more people working than ever before. The employment rate for women is at its highest level since records began, with 70% of 16 to 64-year-olds now in work. That represents more than 1 million more women in employment since 2010.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things the Government can do is support women returners to work, particularly when we have record numbers of women in the workplace?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope she will welcome the element of the Budget that saw £5 million invested in returnships, specifically looking at how we can help women who have been out of the workplace—often starting and having a family—to go back into it and rebuild their careers. I will come on to that later in my speech.
I believe absolutely that wealth creation is important to give us the resources we need to provide a good education, but is the Secretary of State aware that so many schools have seen cutbacks? We in Huddersfield are the 64th worst-hit area out of 650. We do not feel the affluence she is talking about.
We have record investment coming into our schools now.
To secure and build a strong economy, we need sustained investment in human capital—the skills, knowledge and technical excellence that drive productivity and growth. It is people who will lift our country, and we are investing in people. We need to do that now more than ever, because we know there is a productivity gap between the UK and other advanced economies, and we know that part of that gap is caused by skills shortages.
We cut the taper rate on universal credit at the last autumn statement. As I said, the strong economy that this Government’s policies have helped to create means that more women are now in work than ever before. I was talking about how skills and plugging skills shortages for employers is so important. Top employers and businesses are telling us that the skills they need, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths, are in too short supply.
On the point made earlier about women returners, is my right hon. Friend aware that just 5% of women returning to work would generate an extra £750 million in the economy—a very good return?
Absolutely. Women’s economic empowerment is one of the most powerful levers we have to help drive growth in our economy and, more broadly, around the world over the years ahead.
Looking at how we are going to plug the skills gap, only 10% of adults in our country hold a technical qualification as their highest educational achievement. Germany currently produces twice as many science, engineering and technology technicians. Driving these skills will power innovation and growth and, in turn, our economy. That benefits everyone, so we cannot afford to wait. Other economies have been ahead of us in developing the skills of the future, and this Government are clear that we will not fall further behind. We should recognise that globalisation and automation are changing the modern workplace. Thirty-five per cent. of our existing jobs are at a high risk of being replaced in the next 10 to 20 years, not through competition but by technology.
The Secretary of State mentions Germany’s lead in training in technical positions. Does she link that in any way with the fact that Germany consistently has a much higher level of corporation tax in order to fund that?
Germany has its own approach to corporation tax. Ours has been steadily, and dramatically, to reduce it in order to make sure that companies can retain the profits that they are making to be able to reinvest in growing their companies. The proof of the pudding is in the substantial and significant job creation that we have seen in our economy, by comparison with many other countries, over recent years. That is why we are able to put money into our public services.
As we prepare to leave the European Union, we will need to be more self-sufficient in our workforces, in our skills and in the training of our young people to set ourselves up for success. We will need new ideas, new jobs and new investment to confidently meet every challenge and grasp the opportunities ahead of us. We want a global Britain strong at home and strong abroad. It is now time for Britain to step up a gear to begin the shift up to the high-skill, high-productivity economy that we can be. This Government are ready to act.
The autumn statement saw us provide further investment in relation to R&D. Indeed, the national productivity fund has been set up to make sure that we can fund infrastructure, including R&D, more broadly. However, it is not just through physical infrastructure that our country will be successful—we need to invest in our people and in human capital as well. Through this Budget we are investing in human capital in skills, education and training to create a strong economy that works for everyone.
If I can make a bit more progress, I will give way.
This Government are rightly focused on apprenticeships because of the huge difference that they can make to individuals, boosting a person’s lifetime earnings by 11% on average. Eighty-three per cent. of apprentices tell us that they believe that it is improving their career prospects. This is already making a big difference to individuals. Last year 900,000 people were enrolled in an apprenticeship. That means that more than 3 million people have started an apprenticeship since 2010. They include apprentices like Adam Sharp, last year’s advanced apprentice of the year, who moved 150 miles to take up a mechanical design apprenticeship in Sellafield and dreams of becoming that nuclear power plant’s chief mechanical engineer; and Becky King, who went to train at the National Physical Laboratory in London straight after college in order to develop her passion for science.
Last week I kicked off National Apprenticeships Week with Barclays in the City. I met young people on apprenticeships at Barclays who were inspiring because they were finding out just how well they could do. Apprenticeships are bringing out the underlying talent of our young people. It is cathartic for them to be able to discover their potential.
Earlier I met Nationwide representatives from my area keen to support women in getting more maths skills to lead businesses. Recently apprentices from Lloyds met the all-party women in Parliament group. One area where we really need to keep up momentum is with the maths skills that will make sure that our women can lead companies as well. The apprenticeship work at Eastleigh College is doing exactly that in building the basic skills for the gas fitters and plumbers we need—
Order. We are already going to have to impose a time limit of eight minutes on Back Benchers right from the beginning. This debate is very heavily subscribed. If people are going to intervene, they must keep it very brief.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend’s local college is doing. She is absolutely right. In order to see a change in the workplace and in careers, we have to start in early education to build the pipeline to make sure that girls, and subsequently women, are going into these careers, which have traditionally often been more male dominated.
This is not just making a difference to the people who are doing apprenticeships; apprenticeships are making a difference to our country. Employers tell us that apprenticeships increase quality and increase productivity, so investing in an apprenticeship pays out for them and their business, and it is paying out for our wider economy. This is only the beginning of our apprenticeship reforms. Next month, we are introducing the apprenticeship levy, which will ensure that by 2020 over £2.5 billion is available to support apprenticeships. Contributing to the levy will mean that employers are, for the very first time, truly fully invested in apprenticeships. This keeps us on track to meet our manifesto commitment of delivering 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.
Apprenticeships will play a key role in delivering the skills that our modern economy needs to level up, but we need to do more to meet the broader challenges that our economy faces. The most successful countries do not just rely on apprenticeships—work-based routes—to get skilled professionals. They also depend on more college-based routes—on technical courses with workplace experience and training as a crucial element. So we will up our game, looking at reforming our technical education system to make it a central plank of how to sustain a growing economy. For decades, our country has neglected technical education, despite the fact that a substantial proportion—over half—of our young people who choose not to go to university take this path. We have never achieved a sustainable strategy because it has never been truly led by employers. We need a strategy that asks businesses what a world-class technical curriculum should look like—that invests in the tools, the teaching and the skills expertise that help young people to navigate the complex web of choices on careers to find the skills and the career that is right for them.
Over many years, we have allowed the technical curriculum to emphasise quantity rather than quality. There are currently around 13,000 separate technical qualifications. In plumbing alone, a young person has the choice of 33 different courses. How on earth are they supposed to know which course is the highest quality, which one is valued by businesses, and which option is the right fit for them? This cannot be right. In recent years, we have made some important steps forward in tightening the requirements for qualifications included in school and college performance tables, but we need to go much further to ensure that technical education is high quality and meets employers’ needs. In place of complexity, this Government are following the advice of Lord Sainsbury and replacing the current system with a streamlined set of just 15 technical skills routes. Each route will be a pathway to skilled employment—from construction to digital, whether bricks and mortar or lines of code—and our standards for each route will be designed and agreed by our best businesses to make sure there is a direct flow through to the skills that our economy needs.
We know that we need investment as well as reform. At the moment, a young person working towards a technical qualification receives a programme of about 600 hours a year, but in countries with the best technical education—Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway —students train for far more hours per year. If we really are serious about becoming world-class on skills, we need to rival the commitment and investment of the world’s leading countries.
That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced over half a billion pounds a year of new funding for technical education last Wednesday. It will be used to increase the number of teaching hours for students. As the Sainsbury panel recommended, it will also fund institutions to organise a substantial, high-quality work placement for every technical education student, helping them to apply their skills in the workplace and to prepare for a successful move into employment. In total, this will mean that a student’s programme hours will increase by more than 50%, from 600 hours per year to more than 900. It is no surprise that the CBI has called this Budget a “breakthrough Budget for skills”.
The funding for extra hours will be rolled out alongside the new technical routes, beginning with the first programmes in autumn 2019. Each of the routes will lead to a new certificate, the T-level, which will be a gold standard for technical and professional excellence. The name will remind Members of another prominent qualification, and that is very deliberate. I want there to be no ambiguity whatsoever: this is the most ambitious reform of post-16 education since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago. The investment announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor shows that the Government are committed to making it a success.
The qualification will be stronger on a number of fronts. First, it will have the commitment of, and its design will be led by, employers. Secondly, it will have more hours, so the student will simply have had a more comprehensive programme of education in achieving the T-level. Thirdly, its quality will be much higher, with more time spent in the classroom and, critically, more time spent on a quality work placement with an employer. Once the person finishes the T-level, they will come out of it ready to work and to begin their career with a high-quality qualification that employers truly value. That I why we feel this is such a significant step forward.
Building such a world-class technical education system will not just generate the skills and productivity that are the foundations of a strong economy; it will also spread opportunity and increase social mobility, helping to break the link between a person’s background and where they get to in life. It will be no surprise to the House that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be on technical courses than their peers, yet such an education has not been at the level that they deserve or that our economy deserves. A report by the Boston Consulting Group and the Sutton Trust suggests that greater social mobility could boost our economy by a staggering £140 billion every year. Different young people have different talents, and if we can successfully put technical education on a par with academic routes, it will not just be good for those young people, but it will be exactly what our economy needs.
Improving the quality of technical education will boost the life chances and future earnings of those young people. This is not about designing a second chance system for the disadvantaged. I do not want technical education to be seen as a back-up to the academic path; I want parity of esteem. I want technical education to take its rightful place alongside the academic track as a totally credible path to a professional career, but we are not there yet.
Labour Members very much welcome any attempt to raise the status of technical and vocational education and the esteem in which it is held, something we began during our time in government. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is often a mix or blend of the technical and the academic—in engineering, digital opportunities, the creative industries or even health and social care—that will be important in the global world of the future, and will she assure the House that people will not be separated at the age of 16?
The key to success is strengthening the technical education routes, as I have said. Having longevity in the strategy, as was done in Lord Sainsbury’s work, is absolutely critical in giving us an architecture around which we can now build a strategy and, as we saw in the Budget, in which we can now invest. As the hon. Lady says, it is important to ensure that the whole education system fits together. That is why it is so important, as we create more national colleges and institutes of technology, that we talk with further education colleges—they will be at the centre of all this—and also with universities. Universities of course already offer degrees in areas like engineering, but they can clearly offer more applied learning and more technical education routes for many young people. As she says, we have to make sure that that fits together.
Indeed, we want to increase the quality and availability of higher-level technical education, so that technically gifted students can continue their studies beyond the age of 19. One of our challenges is that not only are the lower rungs of the technical education ladder not as high quality as on the academic route, but there are not really the higher rungs for young people to aim for and to climb successfully. The Government’s new national colleges and institutes of technology will make sure that there are world-class institutions at which to study higher level technical qualifications.
From September 2019, we will introduce maintenance loans for students studying level 4 or higher qualifications at these institutions. This will mean that for them, just as for university students, our best technical minds will not be limited by financial circumstances or place. This approach is just as much about parity between places as it is about parity between people. Nearly three quarters of young people in Barnsley follow a technical path, while less than one quarter do so in Kensington and Chelsea. By levelling up technical education—putting it on a par with academic routes, with reform, investment and focus—we can steadily erase regional inequalities and make sure that the door of opportunity for young people in all parts of the country, whatever education route they choose that fits them, is firmly kept open.
Building opportunity and a strong economy is about having good school places as well as skills. Good schools are the foundation of economic success and social mobility. This Government are resolute in our pursuit of more good school places in every part of the country, especially where they are most needed, to power higher educational attainment. That is why almost 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools compared with 2010. That means, critically, that 1.8 million more young people are getting a better start in attempting to reach their potential. However, 1 million pupils are still in schools judged by Ofsted to be inadequate or to require improvement, so there is more work to do.
Alongside the £5 million a year of investment in skills, the Budget delivers £320 million of investment to fund over 70,000 places in up to 110 new free schools, on top of the 500 free schools we have committed to deliver by 2020. That includes funding for specialist maths schools, building on the successes of the outstanding Exeter Mathematics School, which I had the privilege of being able to visit recently, and King’s College London Mathematics School, which the Prime Minister has visited. Every child in every part of the country needs access to a fantastic school place, so we have to plan ahead and leave no stone unturned in pursuit of those places.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case for the importance of education, but does she not share my concern about the current funding system in this country, which is based more on a postcode lottery than on the needs of schools in a particular location?
Absolutely. Our current approach is not just outdated but, in places, extremely unfair. We want our schools to be able to achieve the same outcomes, but we are funding them fundamentally differently in different places. There are differences for children often for no other reason than where they are growing up. No one who wants social mobility to get better should accept that, so we have to move to a more equitable funding approach. That is what we are consulting on right now.
We have to make sure that school places are there for children as they move through the system, but this is not just about the extra school places and new schools that we need; it is also about investing in the schools and school places that we already have. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has therefore put forward an additional £216 million to help to refurbish existing schools and make them fit for the 21st century. Of course, that is on top of our existing plans to invest more than £10 billion improving the condition of the school estate by 2021.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that academic A-levels are one way in which young people can ensure that they get a good start in life, from which they can perhaps go on to great success through our university system? What will the proposals that she is outlining do for young people in Halewood and Knowsley, who have no option in the entire borough for doing academic A-levels and must leave the borough in order to study?
The hon. Lady raises a profound and important point. There are parts of the country where, for far too long, young people’s educational attainment has simply not been good enough. I know that the situation she highlights is part of the much broader challenge that her local community faces in seeking to raise educational attainment steadily. It is important that alongside the investment in technical education that we have set out in the Budget, we make sure through approaches such as opportunity areas that we zone in on the places that most need additional support so that we can shift outcomes there.
The Government’s focus on opportunity does not end when someone leaves full-time education. In a dynamic, modern economy we need to foster a culture of lifelong learning, in which all of us—adults from every walk of life—are passionate about continuing to upskill ourselves.
Before the Secretary of State moves off the issue of the fabric of schools, may I say that although the money from the Chancellor for school repairs is welcome, there is a £6.7 billion backlog of repairs to bring schools up to satisfactory condition? What does she think that backlog will be by the end of this Parliament?
The investment that we have brought forward in the Budget will enable us to go further and faster on that backlog, but as I said earlier, it is also important that we plan ahead. We need to make sure that the demographic bulge of people who have been in our primary schools and are moving through to our secondary schools have school places and classrooms to go to when they need them. That is why balanced investment was announced in the Budget, not just in refurbishing existing schools and school places, with a particular focus on those that need it the most, but in ensuring that we have the extra good school places that our country will need in the future.
I touched briefly on why lifelong learning and the investment in it in the Budget are so important. Lifelong learning needs to become the norm in our country, and I want to ensure that people have the tools to do it. The reality is that many of us will never study again after leaving school, yet we know that in the economy of the future, readapting to new skills and continuing to learn will be vital. That is why we are making available up to £40 million over the next two years to fund lifetime learning trials. That will help us to ensure that we know what works, where it is needed and how we can change our country so that we have a culture in which more adults seize opportunities to upskill and take control of their lives.
As I said earlier, we have the highest level of female employment on record, which is a fantastic achievement, and the gender pay gap is at a record low of 18.1%, but there is still a gap. The Government are implacable in our commitment to close that gap to zero within a generation, and we know that some women find it hard to return to work after taking time out to care for young children. Many feel that they come back to work at a lower level or have to expect less progression in their work and pay. That is not good enough, and our economy cannot afford to miss out on that talent. Some employers are already running schemes to help women return to work, and we want to learn from those businesses and work with them to support more women to be able to do so. We also want to apply the same lessons in the public sector, together with improving people’s ability to take up lifelong learning.
I want to see people coming back to work better skilled than when they left to take a career break, rather than somehow having to struggle to get their career back on track. That is why I have announced that my Department will work with business groups.
On labour market participation, the Red Book shows that funding for returnships will be £5 million, as opposed to £655 million for extending the free schools programme. Does the Secretary of State think that is an appropriate balance?
Returnships are not widely used at the moment—in fact, they are used by just a few companies—but we know that where they have been invested in, they have made a real difference. We are at the beginning of bringing forward some pilots so that we can better understand what works and get a clearer sense of the broader strategy that we should have for the long term. That comes alongside the investment in lifelong learning, which ties into that work. Critically, we will consider how we can ensure that, as we develop those policies and ideas, they are informed by evidence. That was the reason for the investment that we announced in the Budget.
On returners, will the Secretary of State also consider people who have stepped out of the workplace because of caring responsibilities? They are not necessarily youngsters, but include people who have given up a career thinking that it would be for the long term, but have found that it is for a shorter time.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We need to understand that flexible working must be able to adapt to the different lives that people lead today, not just at one point in their life but as it changes, which happens to all of us through our working lives and careers.
Of course, International Women’s Day was last week, and I thought it was a sign of how important that day has become in our calendar that the Chancellor chose to mark it by making it Budget day. We have our second woman in No. 10 Downing Street, and I am proud that both female Prime Ministers have been Conservative Prime Ministers. There is a long way still to go, but we should celebrate the important progress that has been made. Nearly 100 years after women were first given the vote, the Chancellor has set aside £5 million to celebrate that historic event.
This Budget continues the Government’s mission to spread opportunity to every part of the country. That mission rests on a strong, stable economy that provides the careers and jobs that will lead to financial independence and success for a new generation, and a sense of place and meaning in people’s lives. We cannot be complacent. There will be more challenges to come, but by investing in a world-class system of technical education, alongside schools, lifelong learning and returnships, the Government have taken a crucial step in underwriting the flow of skills that our country and our businesses need. We will level up opportunity. We will lift our country by lifting up our young people, and this breakthrough Budget on skills and schools merits the support of this House.
It is a pleasure to respond to the Secretary of State, and it is quite right that we have a day in this year’s Budget debate dedicated to education and skills. This Budget comes at a time when Britain has a deep social mobility problem that is getting worse, not better. That problem is the result of an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an unbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market. That is not my accusation, but the conclusion of the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission.
The commission made a number of policy recommendations, most of which seem to have been ignored. It also made a recommendation against a policy: the Government’s proposals for new grammar schools. Sadly, that recommendation has also been ignored. Instead, the Chancellor used the Budget to announce plans to spend another £320 million on the next tranche of new free schools. The Prime Minister wrote in The Daily Telegraph that that money would provide 70,000 new places, as the Secretary of State reiterated today. That would be the equivalent of £4,571 per pupil, but the Secretary of State will know that her Department’s most recent figures showed that the cash cost of a primary free school place was £21,100 and the cash cost of creating a secondary free school place was £24,600.
That huge underfunding is coupled with a slightly curious detail hidden in the back of the Red Book: a further £715 million of capital funding for free schools in the next Parliament. Perhaps the Secretary of State can answer this maths question. If Philip gives Justine £320 million for new free school places, and each school place costs at least £21,000, how many school places will Theresa end up with? I look forward to marking the Government’s homework later.
Will the hon. Lady join me and local parents in Swindon in congratulating the Government on providing the funding for two free schools and helping us to tackle the lack of school places after the last Labour Government reduced the number of school places in the noughties?
I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s points about the cost-efficiency of free schools later in my speech.
Either the Prime Minister has made an announcement without the Chancellor actually funding it, or they are simply disguising yet another eye-watering overspend on their staggeringly inefficient free schools programme and pretending that it is new money for new places. That would not be much of a surprise. The National Audit Office has helpfully reminded the Chancellor and the Secretary of State:
“In 2010 the Department estimated that it would cost £900 million by March 2015 to open 315 schools.”
By March 2015, the Department had spent double that initial budget and not even managed to hit its target for new schools. The NAO found that the Department had already spent around £3.4 billion on the land alone for free schools and it was on course to be Britain’s largest land purchaser, even before this Budget sank yet more money in. The NAO also showed that new places in free schools were far more expensive than those in conventional schools. Will the Minister tell the House and the British people how much money her Department will actually spend on delivering these new free schools, and will she guarantee that they will open in places where there is a clear need for spaces?
The Chancellor pledged £216 million for every other school over a three-year period, as the Secretary of State mentioned in her speech, but the NAO has found that, as John Pugh said, £6.7 billion is necessary just to return all existing schools to a satisfactory condition. The NAO also found that 85% of schools that applied to the priority schools building programme were rejected in the last round, and that that investment was cheaper than the free schools programme.
Of course, we know why the Chancellor focused on free schools despite the cost—because it
“will enable the creation of new selective free schools.”
It was the former Education Secretary who said that he had “had enough of experts”, but not even he tried to bring back grammar schools, let alone pretend that it was a policy for social mobility.
I am not giving way. Only one in every 25 pupils at a grammar school is eligible for free school meals, while one in every eight pupils at grammar schools previously attended an independent school. Even among the highest-achieving 20% of pupils, those from the most affluent backgrounds are 45% more likely to get into a grammar school than those from the most disadvantaged. Of course, the Government have suggested —again, not to this House, but in leaks to the press—that they intend to take action to change that in existing grammar schools; that has not gone down very well on the Conservative Back Benches. Given that the Government have been happy to jump the gun on the rest of their consultation, perhaps the Secretary of State could be as forthcoming to the House about those plans as she was to the press?
The Secretary of State has spent a huge amount of time speaking and I have a lot of Back Benchers who want to speak, so I am going to carry on.
The Chancellor announced one other measure in the Budget to address the issue: £5 million a year for the Government’s cash-for-cabs scheme, bussing children to grammar schools. Of course, the Chancellor forgot to mention that the Government had just cut £6 million out of the schools transport budget for every other child. Those cuts left no statutory provision for disabled 16 to 18-year-olds and others, who were forced to change school. They are paying the taxi tax so that a handful of pupils can be ferried up to 15 miles to the nearest grammar school by cab, at a cost of thousands of pounds each. Apparently, the comprehensive school bus is out, and the grammar school Uber is in. That is all to give the Government a fig leaf of social mobility. The Chancellor said:
“We are committed to that programme because we understand that choice is the key to excellence in education”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 818.]
I remind the Government that good teaching, school leadership, proper funding, the right curriculum and many other things are also key to that excellence.
It is also a rather obvious point that the Government’s proposed system is not one in which parents or pupils choose the school; instead, the schools choose the pupils. Parents are unlikely to have the choice they have been promised on childcare either. The Chancellor told the House that
“from September, working parents with three and four-year-olds will get their free childcare entitlement doubled to 30 hours a week.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 816.]
But the Secretary of State has already admitted in written answers that only a small minority of the parents receiving 15 hours will be eligible for the 30 hours. Fewer than 400,000 families will qualify, despite the Government’s promise at the last election that more than 600,000 would benefit.
The Chancellor’s plans for adult education are no closer to reality. He announced £40 million to trial new ways of delivering adult education and lifelong learning, but his own Government have cut the adult skills budget by 32% since 2010, taking out more than £1 billion. I know that the Chancellor’s aides have referred to their neighbours in No. 10 as “economically illiterate”, but surely even they realise the absurdity of trying to reverse the damage caused by £1 billion of cuts with £40 million in trials.
It is a similar story with the £500 million a year to deliver the new T-levels. That amount of new investment would be welcome—after all, further education budgets were cut by 7% in the last Parliament, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that between 2010 and 2020, funding per pupil in further education would be cut by 13%—but the briefing lines do not quite match the Budget lines. The Red Book shows that in 2018-19 the new funding will be only £60 million. Even by 2021-22, the new funding will not have risen to the promised half a billion a year.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the consequences for the productivity gap? Since the Tories came in, and even under the coalition Government, the productivity gap between this country and the rest of the world has worsened in every single year. It is now at its worst since 1991.
I make that one-all from each side of the House, so I will move on.
That brings us back to the context for the other announcements, which is the funding crisis facing our schools. We learn from The Times today that the Government are now in retreat over the new funding formula. Perhaps the Secretary of State will use this opportunity to clarify the Government’s position to the House, rather than to Conservative Members in private meetings. They might say that they are still consulting and have not seen the results, but we still have not yet had the results of the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation and that did not stop the Prime Minister using the Budget to announce most of the forthcoming schools Bill to the press.
It was the same story with the initial plans for new grammar schools, the new school improvement funding, the new capital spending on free schools and every other education announcement made in last week’s Budget. Announcements are being made behind closed doors or behind the paywalls of the Prime Minister’s favoured newspapers, rather than to this House. It is no wonder they would rather avoid our scrutiny, because the Budget failed to mention the pledge the Conservative party made in its manifesto:
“Under a future Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected…there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.”
The last Prime Minister made clear what he meant:
“the amount of money following your child into the school will not be cut. In Treasury-speak, flat cash per pupil.”
The Conservatives were clear: not a single pupil in the country would see their funding cut by a single penny. That was their promise. Yet the National Audit Office has found that there will be an 8% drop in per pupil funding this Parliament, leaving schools forced to make cuts worth £3 billion. Up and down the country, we hear that schools are seeing less money in their budgets. They are being forced to cut hours or subjects, or to ask parents to chip in. Yesterday, on Europe, the Government were clear that their justification was the mandate of the British people, yet they had a mandate when it came to funding our schools too. I know the Tories would like to airbrush the last Prime Minister from history, but will they tell us today whether that pledge still stands, and, if so, when the Treasury intends to meet it?
The Government had much to say about education in this Budget, but when it came to meeting their own promises they were selective with their facts and comprehensive in their failure. They must do better.
Let me start by welcoming the Budget and congratulating the Secretary of State on her speech. I am delighted that she has managed to secure protection for the schools budget, which will continue to grow in real terms, and I congratulate the Chief Secretary on facilitating that. I also welcome the national funding formula, which the Secretary of State for Education has been working on with a forensic attention to detail. It will ensure that funding follows need, rather than an accident of postcode. Croydon, the borough I represent, has historically been underfunded. We will now see that injustice corrected, so I congratulate the Secretary of State on her work and welcome the national funding formula.
The shadow Secretary of State for Education gave us a blizzard of statistics. I wanted to intervene on her to say that the most important statistic on education is this: 1.8 million more children are being educated in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. The hon. Lady can quote all the sums she likes, but the fact remains that the Government are delivering a better education for more children than ever before. Conservative Members are proud of our Government, and our free school and academy programme, and I am delighted that the Government are expanding it.
I was pleased that the Chief Secretary, the Chancellor and the Education Secretary found an additional £1.035 billion over the next five years—up until 2021-22—to fund further new schools. New schools give choice to parents and, as the statistics I quoted show, they encourage higher standards. Some of those schools might well be new grammar schools, which the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne criticised. I should declare to the House that I am a grammar school boy. I know from my experience in a south London grammar school that such schools help children from ordinary backgrounds to fulfil their potential. All the studies show that children from ordinary backgrounds who go to grammar schools do a great deal better than those who go to other schools.
I am sorry that Angela Rayner did not give way to my hon. Friend, although she did give way to John Mann, many of whose constituents attend a grammar school in my constituency. The question she failed to answer was this: why, since the abolition of grammar schools, has there been a catastrophic fall in social mobility in the most deprived areas?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Grammar schools can and should be an engine for social mobility. The Government’s White Paper and the Education Secretary’s proposals include new measures to ensure that grammar schools take on a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals. There is a very successful case study: the King Edward VI grammar schools in Birmingham. They have taken a number of steps, including offering outreach to local primary schools in deprived areas, free tuition for their tests, and bursaries to fund school uniforms and travel. Together, they have increased the grammar schools’ free school meal intake from 3%, which is a very low figure, to about 22%. This shows that the Education Secretary’s proposals work in practice, and I strongly welcome them.
It is up to individual schools to set their own individual curriculums, and to offer their pupils and parents a choice. That is what localism means. Of course grammar schools, by their nature, tend to be more academic in flavour—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Well, that is what a grammar school is—that should hardly be a surprise to Opposition Members. Other kinds of school have a more technical specialisation. Diversity of provision, choice for parents and variety in our system are signs of success, which Conservative Members celebrate.
Let me turn to other measures in the Budget, starting with business rates. Like several hon. Members, I was concerned about the effect of the business rates revaluation on smaller businesses. The town of Purley in my constituency was particularly affected by some quite significant upward revaluations. In that context, it is welcome that the Budget announced £435 million of discretionary relief to help small businesses in towns such as Purley. I would suggest, particularly to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that it might be worth reconsidering the profiling of that £435 million over time. The lion’s share of that money comes in the first two years: £180 million in 2017-18; and £85 million in 2018-19. That is welcome, but the transitional relief—the upward caps on rates increases—for small businesses is 5% in 2017-18, and 7.5% in 2018-19, so most small businesses will not feel too much of an effect in the next two years. It is really in three, four and five years’ time that increases will be most powerfully felt. Would the Chief Secretary consider changing the profile of that money so that, instead of being front-loaded in the next one or two years, it can be back-loaded into years 3 and 4, when the effects of the business rate increases will be most heavily felt? The total amount of money would remain the same—£435 million—but the profile would be shifted over time better to match the effect of the business rates increases.
I offer a second thought on transitional relief for the future, which again relates to the upward and downward caps. Bills have been sent out for 2017-18. There is an upward cap of 5% for small businesses, so no small business will face an increase of more than 5%, and there is a downward cap for large businesses of 4.1%, so no large business gets a decrease greater than 4.1%. I accept that that is now fixed.
Looking into the future, however, and particularly to 2019-20 and 2020-21, I wonder whether the autumn statement might consider fine tuning those upward and downward caps so that the largest businesses, such as the big four supermarkets, have a lower or even a zero further downward cap, so that they get no further decreases beyond next year’s decrease. That could fund a more generous upward cap for the smallest businesses, meaning that the upward cap of 10% to 15% in 2019-20 and 2020-21 could be reduced. This approach would be fiscally neutral. It would not affect arrangements for the coming financial year, which I accept are fully set in stone, but it would help small businesses in three or four years’ time, including businesses in Purley. I have noticed that the cumulative upward cap for such small businesses over the five-year period accumulates to 64.2%, which represents quite a high cap. If we could find a way of softening the blow, it would be very welcome indeed.
The Chancellor’s Budget statement also touched on pollution, particularly due to diesel cars. My constituency, like all London constituencies, is profoundly affected by this problem. The Chancellor mentioned that a plan would be delivered over the summer, in response to the European Union court case, and that fiscal measures would be introduced in the autumn Budget.
I have significant reservations about Sadiq Khan’s proposed diesel scrappage scheme, which would cost £515 million over two years in London. The cost of such a scheme nationally would be £3.5 billion a year over two years, which would be unaffordable and would, in fact, simply cause one set of diesel cars to be replaced by another. I do not support the diesel scrappage scheme proposed by the Mayor of London, but one fiscal measure that the Government might consider, bearing in mind that diesel cars now burn 10 million tonnes of fuel a year—a three times increase over the last 10 years —is introducing a significantly increased registration tax for new diesel cars. I am talking about cars, not vans and lorries, because I accept that including them would have an impact on business. That approach would help to deter people from buying new diesel cars, which now make up about half of all new car purchases in this country. Such a measure would have no retrospective effect on people who have already bought a diesel car, but it would encourage people to switch away from diesel cars, which would do a great deal to help to ease pollution problems in cities such as London in the months and years ahead.
I see that I am rapidly approaching the time limit, so let me conclude—[Interruption.] I am glad I have said something that is popular among Opposition Members. I welcome the Budget, which continues the Government’s record of job creation and growth. I congratulate the Education Secretary and the Chief Secretary again on protecting and growing education funding, and on committing to fund more excellent schools in our country.
This was a dull Budget, although I do not necessarily say that as a criticism, because it was meant to be dull. The Chancellor did most of his heavy lifting in the autumn statement, in which he amassed a war chest by borrowing more than £120 billion. The criticism of the Budget is that rather than using that war chest now to raise productivity and improve education, he has put it aside because he does not know what will happen after the Brexit deal is done.
The Secretary of State for Education made a reasonable fist of trying to explain the new T-levels. If her explanation had lasted for two or three minutes, I would have believed her, but after half an hour, I began to think that she was arguing a little bit too hard, as if she did not really believe it herself. The T-levels were one of the more innovative parts of the Budget—I do not demur from that—but if we want a technical education of the standard that exists in Germany or the Netherlands, we must have the schools, and the workshops, computers and machinery in those schools, to do the teaching. In fact, the equipment in the schools has to be better than what people will find in the factory after they have graduated. The way to raise productivity is by training in schools at the highest and most advanced technological level.
If the money that the Budget gave to increasing selective education had been put into technical schools in line with the investment that takes place in Germany and the Netherlands, I might just have believed what the Government said. However, the T-levels are yet another blind by a Government who want to pursue selective academic education for a very narrow stream of people, which will not solve the problem of productivity.
The one significant change in the Budget that had the biggest impact was the rise in national insurance for the self-employed, so let us try to connect that to the whole question of educational productivity. Rather than Members listening to me, let us take the evidence of two companies: a construction and investment company called Chiswell; and a building company called Castlemead. Does anyone know who these companies are? They are both owned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To give him his due, he put those companies into a blind trust in 2010. He is an honourable man, so there is no question of him influencing these companies at the moment, unlike certain Presidents of the United States who we might mention.
It is interesting to see what these companies are thinking about the economy, productivity and skills. The 2016 accounts of Castlemead say that the building industry is
“suffering from supply bottlenecks, particularly of skilled tradespeople, driving up costs.”
What does the building company Chiswell say? It states:
“The scarcity of good quality and committed subcontractors is still an issue”.
The company is considering going back into house building. Of course, this skills and supply bottleneck is largely seen among the self-employed. To sum up, the Federation of Master Builders says that 60% of SME construction firms are struggling to hire bricklayers and carpenters.
The Secretary of State claims that the increase in technical training will help to supply some of this much-needed skill demanded by Chiswell and Castlemead. At the same time, however, the Chancellor is removing the incentive to work and to take up training because he is raising the taxes of the very workers whom his companies say they need. In other words, the Chancellor is so short-sighted that he is hurting not only his own businesses but, sadly, everybody else’s.
This is not just a dull Budget because, at its heart, there is a ticking timebomb. The OBR forecast about what happens next is interesting, as it relates to whether the money will be there to provide the training about which the Secretary of State has spoken. The Chancellor was concerned to tell us that, under his chancellorship, growth has been very strong in the past 12 months. Growth in this country has been powered by consumer borrowing. If we drill into this, we find that the OBR says that in 2016 the savings ratio in the UK hit a historical low—it has gone to zero and below. People are dissaving. If people are not saving, ultimately the funds are not there to finance the investment that will raise productivity. Moreover, because saving has collapsed, the OBR does not think that there is a potential for consumer borrowing and consumer expenditure to continue to carry the economy. The OBR predicts a downturn in the availability of consumer funds over the next 12 months, so the dissaving cannot continue.
Most of the boost to consumer spending last year was a hangover from 2015, when inflation was fairly low. As real incomes were rising—a rare occurrence in the previous 10 years—people felt that they were a bit better off. However, now that inflation is rising, because the pound has tanked, we can expect consumer borrowing to disappear, so how will the economy meet its growth targets? The OBR says that the borrowing will be replaced by a rise in business investment. When I asked the OBR officials who appeared before the Treasury Committee yesterday why they thought that—where was the evidence that business investment would rise?—they had a wonderful answer, which quite took my breath away: “Business investment has been so low for so long that it is bound to go up some time.” [Laughter.] That was what they said; Members can go and read the transcript.
May I amplify the point that my hon. Friend is making? On page 7 of its book, the OBR states that investment intentions have been put on hold, but when we turn the page, we find that business investment is forecast to grow by between 3.7% and 4.2% between 2018 and 2021. It simply does not add up, does it?
Not only does it not add up, but it means that we will not have the investment in plant and machinery that will raise productivity. We will miss our productivity targets yet again. Since the Chancellor has amassed his war chest, he should be using it. He should not wait for two or three years to see what happens after Brexit—no general does that. What is needed is investment now. Let us get on with the T-levels. Let us invest in English schools. I think that that would be a good thing to do, but it is not what the Budget says.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. As I understand it—a Minister may be able to confirm this—the Government have invested £300 million. Colleges can apply for technical status, and the money will help to provide all the equipment, which I entirely agree is needed.
I accept that proposition but, having spent 25 years of my life teaching in further education, I know that £300 million for the whole of England and Wales becomes a tiny amount when we drill down to all the individual institutions. Can the Government not confront reality? If we want the productivity levels of Germany, we should not be talking about £300 million; we should be talking about £30 billion. If the Government do not want to spend £30 billion, that is fine, but they should not pretend that small amounts of money somehow solve the problem.
I learned a lot from my hon. Friend because about 35 years ago he was my economics lecturer.
We have delegated responsibility to the Bank of England through the quantitative easing programme, and that has led to a lack of balance. We have seen £435 billion of QE that simply has not worked, but we have not seen enough fiscal responsibility from the Government to create the circumstances that will deliver sustainable growth.
My hon. Friend is right. However, it is important to pin the blame where it is deserved, because perhaps the Chancellor gets too much of it. The blame actually lies in Downing Street with the Prime Minister. When she launched her bid for leadership of the Conservative party on
“If before 2020 there is a choice between further spending cuts, more borrowing and tax rises, the priority must be to avoid tax increases since they would disrupt consumption, employment and investment.”
Yet now we have a Budget that will raise the taxes of the self-employed and entrepreneurs—the people whose motivation is required for growth in the economy and an increase in productivity. It is the Prime Minister who has reneged on her leadership promise; the Chancellor is only doing her bidding.
This Budget claims to address the questions of education and productivity, but it is actually about selectivity and privilege for the narrow few. Let me tell the House what it has not done. For the first time in 100 years, the millennial generation is earning less than its parents. The Budget does not deal with that, because the Chancellor has sat on his war chest. Home ownership among middle earners is falling for the first time in 50 years. Mrs Thatcher would be turning in her grave if she heard that that was happening under a Conservative Government. By 2020-21—the end of the forecast period—average incomes will be a fifth less than they would have been if growth had continued at pre-crisis levels. There will be £5,000 less for every household.
The Conservative Government have not delivered a return to wealth for the ordinary person. The Chancellor’s freeze on universal credit and housing benefits means that one person in seven will have a lower real income in five years’ time. This is a Budget that does not address the real issues of inequality in this country. It is a Budget for inertia and complacency, and I will vote against it.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the outcomes of Scottish education, in terms of the number of people entering work and higher education, are significantly higher than they are in this part of the United Kingdom.
I am very grateful for being informed. Before the hon. Gentleman stood up, I did want to say to him and his colleague the hon. Member for East Lothian that the events of the last 24 hours had convinced me more than ever that I was right to table an amendment, at the beginning of the present Parliament, to give full fiscal autonomy to Scotland, with a modern equalisation formula which would ensure prosperity throughout the nations of the United Kingdom and replace the outdated Barnett formula. Perhaps SNP Members should not intervene on me too often, because basically I am on their side when it comes to these matters.
I want to say a few words in defence of the Government. I am aware that that is sometimes an unpopular thing to do, but I feel that the Chancellor was courageous. I know that that is what Ministers are sometimes told by their civil servants when they are doing radical things—“It is a very courageous thing that you are doing, Minister”—but I think that this was the right thing to do. A storm has broken about the Chancellor’s head over the last few days. Why was it the right thing to do to try to plug the funding gap and to increase national insurance contributions? It was the right thing to do because this is, I think, about honesty in politics. Too often in Budgets we have seen gimmicks and little giveaways. We have only learnt the full story the next day, and we have realised that successive Chancellors have pretty well taken back from us what they have given to us. The Chancellor was trying to say, “We have to have a mature, grown-up debate in this country about how we are going to meet the funding gap in adult care.” That debate will run and run. We have a few months to think about it and to come up with a solution.
People say to me, “You made a manifesto commitment.” Sometimes, circumstances change, and one has to do what is right for the country. It is a difficult thing to do. Manifesto commitments are not written in stone—[Interruption.] I did not mean that to be a joke. We all know the history of that particular Labour party manifesto commitment and what might have happened to those words written in stone if the Labour party had won the election.
We have to have a mature debate about how we are going to pay for the NHS. Why do I say that? I am going to be completely honest about it. A lot more needs to be done for our NHS. I rely, as do my family, entirely on the NHS. We have no other providers. People of my age are deeply worried about the funding crisis. We have seen what has happened on A&E—targets have been missed. We have seen the report that puts the UK just ahead of Slovenia, Croatia and Estonia. As a country, we should be doing better than that. What is worse, England was ranked 30th for accessibility because of our exceptionally long waiting times for treatment. The 2013 figures from the OECD show the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and France at the top, with their spending hovering at around 11% of GDP, while the UK’s stands at just 8.5%. Therefore, we need to have a mature debate about how we are going to meet the funding gap for all our people.
The King’s Fund estimates that, if we wanted to close that gap solely by increasing NHS funding from central Government, by 2021 we would need to increase our spending by 30%—a whopping £43 billion increase in real terms. That would push NHS spending to £185 billion overall.
Are there any alternatives to those scenarios? I pose that question. I know that that is unpopular. I know that people do not necessarily want to debate this, but we cannot raise this money from general taxation—there is not the political will and we cannot afford to do it—not if we want to maintain the NHS as universal, non-contributory and entirely free at the point of use. Something has to give.
The 2015 Euro health consumer index points out a contrast between two styles of health care: the “Bismarck” systems and the “Beveridge” systems. Bismarck systems are based on citizens taking out insurance available from a range of providers, whereas Beveridge systems such as ours have one body that provides all the care. The ECHI says that the largest Beveridge countries—the UK, Spain and Italy—
“keep clinging together in the middle of the index.”
The ECHI rated the Dutch health system as the best performing in Europe. The Netherlands happens to have a contributory Bismarck-style system. I believe—I know that it is controversial and that colleagues do not necessarily want to debate it because it is politically very sensitive—that, without appointing a royal commission and wasting years, Ministers, and the Opposition, have to have an open mind about how we are going to raise money for people not from general taxation, but by moving gradually, for parts of our healthcare, to a social insurance-based system.
We also have to have the courage to think radically about following the German and French example and indeed the Australian example. If you go to see a GP in Australia, you have to pay some money; if you do not turn up, you lose the money. In France, if you go to see a doctor or go to A&E, you have to pay a “facture”. If you cannot afford to pay, all that will be returned to you; if you can afford to pay, you have to make a contribution.
I know that these are radical ideas. However, if people are going to dismiss them, and dismiss the need for an open debate about how we are going to fund our healthcare system, they have to explain to us how they will raise the money from general taxation. There is no point simply attacking for Government for increasing national insurance contributions without proposing how they are going to tax to have a world-beating healthcare system, which is in all our interests. We want an open debate on that.
We need to have a realistic debate about education, too, on both sides of the Chamber. I do not think the way to approach the debate is to say, “I believe in grammar schools,” or “I oppose selective education in any shape or form.” The Opposition have to ask themselves a serious question: why has social mobility declined so catastrophically in our most deprived areas? The solution may not be to have grammar schools in our deprived areas. It may be to have more academic streams in our comprehensive schools. It may be to set up some selective schools only in deprived areas. It may be to provide places only for academically gifted children who come from deprived backgrounds. If politically and ideologically one says that we are not going to go down that route at all and believes in neighbourhood comprehensives in deprived areas, one has to ask oneself why social mobility is declining, has declined and will go on declining.
The Prime Minister is trying to open up a serious and interesting debate, and the Health Secretary is starting to open up a serious and interesting debate about how we are going to fund the NHS, and the Chancellor is opening up a serious and interesting debate about how we are going to find the money to meet all our future needs. In those terms and on that basis, I welcome the Budget speech.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Leigh; he made a thoughtful and forward-looking speech, although I have to say that I could not disagree with him more on the matters of insurance-based payments to fund our NHS and selective education; those are the wrong approaches for this country to take.
I want to mention three key points. The first is the position of the national debt. This year’s “Economic and fiscal outlook” document from the Office for Budget Responsibility states that
“the fiscal mandate has targeted different measures of the deficit at different horizons”, which is a beautifully diplomatic way of saying that the Government keep moving the goalposts and still fail to score the goal. The OBR goes on to state that
“the Government does not appear to be on track to meet its stated fiscal objective to ‘return the public finances to balance at the earliest possible date in the next Parliament’.”
So the Government have failed on the deficit, but they are failing catastrophically on the debt.
In 2010, the Government expected public sector net debt to be falling as a share of GDP; it was forecast to reach a high of 70.3% in 2013-14, falling to 67.4% by 2015-16. However, in every single year that the Tories have been in No. 11 net debt has risen in actual and relative terms, reaching 83.7% of GDP last year, and it is going to rise through this Parliament, with the Red Book forecasting that it will reach 88.9% this year.
When the coalition took office, public sector net debt was £771 billion. This year it reached £1.6 trillion, and the Red Book forecasts it is to rise again throughout this Parliament to £1.9 trillion. This is my first key point: in little over a decade, the Tories will have increased public sector debt by 146%, with it rising by over £1 trillion.
In his statement, the Chancellor said that they
“will not saddle our children with ever-increasing debts.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 811.]
However, when Tory Chancellors have increased the public debt by almost 150% in a decade, saddling our children with ever-increasing debts seems to be precisely what this Government are doing.
But the public sector debt is almost touching £2 trillion. The hon. Gentleman cannot be satisfied with that situation when the whole nature of Tory Governments since 2010 has been not only to reduce the deficit, but also to get the debt down to manageable proportions.
On that point, having debt on a low and falling proportion of GDP provides some scope to absorb the impact of any future economic shock. That was the case with the Labour Government in the run-up to 2008, and in many respects it was the case with the Thatcher Government in 1988, ’89 and ’90, to hit the recession of the early 1990s. But this Government are failing to do the same thing: we will hit any economic turbulence or downturn with public sector debt being about 80% to 85% of GDP. That does not give us the flexibility to be able to respond and help firms and families in a robust and strong way.
The second point I want to make is about the nature of the economic recovery. Seven years ago a Tory Chancellor’s first Budget for 13 years stated that the British economy had become unbalanced, too reliant on growth and, as the 2010 Red Book said,
“driven by the accumulation of unsustainable levels of private sector debt and rising public sector debt.”
Growth was confined to a limited number of sectors and regions. I have mentioned public sector debt, and it is true to say that the British economy has performed well; the UK was the fastest-growing G7 economy last year. However, if we scratch beneath the surface, it is questionable precisely who is benefiting from that growth and what sort of growth we are having. Of course, growth is growth, and it has to be welcomed, but the British economy seems to be reverting to type, which could leave us vulnerable to long-term challenges and mean that we fail to take advantage of great opportunities.
Who is benefiting from the growth? The UK has been the only big advanced economy in which wages have contracted while the economy has expanded. Households are facing a period of 15 years in which average real wage growth simply does not happen. Average earnings in real terms are expected to be the same in 2022 as they were in 2007. Such a long period of wage stagnation is unprecedented since before the industrial revolution. Yet despite the lack of wage growth, household consumption is powering the economy, as George Kerevan mentioned in his powerful contribution. This has led to an expansion in the dominant services sector, but if consumption growth is running faster than wage growth, it must mean that people are either reducing their savings or increasing their borrowing.
The Governor of the Bank of England said in a speech in January that
“the UK expansion is increasingly consumption-led. Evidence from the past quarter century across a range of countries suggests episodes of consumption-led growth tends to be both slower and less durable.”
The household debt-to-income ratio has increased from 140.8% to 143.9% this year alone. These are worrying trends, and we are not seeing an increase in investment or an export-led recovery. Business investment has constantly undershot expectations, and there was a year-on-year fall in business investment of 1.5% last year. Despite the drop in sterling’s value against the dollar by about a fifth since
My third point is that we need a new model for the economy. To be fair to the Prime Minister, she said when she first came into No. 10 that she wanted to see an economy that worked for everyone, and that she wanted to see private sector reform to ensure that growth was rebalanced and reached all parts of the UK. However, that is not what we saw in last week’s Budget. The Government have referred to an industrial strategy as the path by which such growth could be achieved, yet the Chancellor failed to mention the term “industrial strategy” once in his financial statement, which demonstrates the buy-in from the Treasury to the concept. We talk about rebalancing across the regions, but as a north-eastern MP, I could find no reference whatever to the north in the Budget statement, let alone an assurance that we could have an economy that worked for everyone.
In our recent Select Committee report following our inquiry into the industrial strategy, we noted that the Government tend to operate in silos, and this Budget sadly reveals business as usual and more of the same. The Government intervene in the economy every single day, through taxes and regulations, as the Red Book shows. They can do that in an ad hoc, piecemeal way, or they can do it as part of a co-ordinated, strategic purpose. Sadly, the Budget seems to stress the former. It is true that the industrial strategy talks about skills as being essential, and the Chancellor’s announcement on technical education is welcome, but we will not see the fruits of those proposals until 2020-21. The industrial strategy also talks about ensuring that we are one of the most competitive places in the world to start and grow a business, yet the national insurance contributions debacle will result in a tax on enterprise, on ambition and on personal risk-taking by entrepreneurs.
The Committee would have liked to see a more ambitious, mission-based approach in which the Government, working with business, set a long-term direction for the economy in the pursuit of tackling global and national challenges. Where in the Budget was the vision on decarbonisation? Where in the Budget was the ambition to be the leading economy to exploit the fourth industrial revolution? Sadly, we got the same short-term tinkering, which will not address issues such as low productivity, skills deficiencies and massive regional imbalances. If the Prime Minister is serious about an economy that works for everyone, we need to see a step change in the way the economy works. An industrial strategy could be the means by which we achieve that but, sadly, in this Budget we saw business as usual.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the considered speech of Mr Wright. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Education on her passion and commitment to social mobility. We saw that today and we see similar themes in the Budget. I am so pleased that she is doing everything possible to ensure that my constituents have the opportunity to realise their potential. I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to technical education, the introduction of the T-levels and the fundamental reform of education for 16 to 19-year-olds. It is truly a Budget for skills. I care so much about that because it represents an important investment in the future of my constituency. Telford has a proud industrial past as the birthplace of the industrial revolution.
I know that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with me, but I will continue to say that Telford is indeed the birthplace of the industrial revolution. We have our foundries, ironmasters such as Abraham Darby, the invention of the inclined plane, the Ironbridge—I could go on, but we are here to talk about skills. Over the years, through innovation and the indomitable Telford spirit, we have been able to overcome obstacles and find solutions to many problems. As a result of that innovation and spirit, Telford has become a dynamic, vibrant centre of the modern industrial revolution. From polymers and plastics to the high-tech automotive supply chain and advanced manufacturing, high-skilled, high-paid jobs are on offer to Telford’s young people.
Some years ago, I addressed sixth-form students at Abraham Darby Academy, which is in Madeley in my constituency, and said that university is not for everyone, that many graduates feel ill-equipped for the world of work on graduation and that some find themselves highly in debt in low-paid jobs. There was a bit of shuffling and an awkward silence and the teachers looked at each other and at the floor, and it became clear that almost all the students were being actively encouraged to go to university, which is what they planned to do. At that stage, however, they did not have the choice that is now being offered to students. We now have a clear-cut quality alternative for students who want to spend their post-16 years preparing for the world of work, which has to be a good thing. We have to ensure that the young people of Telford have the right skills and the work-readiness abilities to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the high-skilled, high-tech jobs that are now coming to Telford.
Employers in Telford frequently talk to me about the skills gap being a major challenge, and the Budget’s measures on technical training will address that. Telford already has some fantastic organisations that are working hard to upskill our young people. Juniper Training and the Telford College of Arts and Technology do fantastic things on work readiness and skilling young people up with technical skills. Equally important, however, is the skills training offered by primary schools in Telford. We may be doing something unique, so I want to tell the House about it because it is a model that other primary schools should look to follow.
At Dawley C of E Primary Academy, which I visited recently, every single child uses technology in the classroom in amazingly innovative and advanced ways. Children are acquiring skills that will equip them for the jobs of the future. I got to see 7-year-olds using 3D printing and computer-aided design to make flowerpots and benches for an outdoor area as if it were second nature. The school is giving children the skills to thrive in the Britain of tomorrow—skills for success in a modern economy. Pupils from Newdale Primary and Nursery School visited me in Parliament today, and one young boy told me all about how they are learning to code. Many schools do that, but we need to build on the technical skills that children learn at a young age. It is fantastic that we can build on that with a complete overhaul of 16-to-19 provision to create a workforce of tomorrow for jobs that have not even been created yet, which is vital for a vibrant economy and for our global competitiveness.
I say “Well done” to Dawley C of E Primary Academy and to Richard Smith from Amazing ICT, who goes around all the primary schools in Telford helping pupils to discover technology at the youngest possible age. They are giving students the skills they need to thrive in the modern economy and equipping them for the jobs of tomorrow. A particular “well done” goes to the Secretary of State for Education for introducing that transformative approach to skills. As with the new T-levels and the technical education routes, we are helping children to do what they wish to do, and we are boosting UK productivity and UK competitiveness in a post-Brexit world.
I welcome many of the Budget’s other measures, too. I particularly want to mention the measures for women, including the £5 million for the centenary of votes for women in 1918, as it is important that we mark that incredible milestone. I welcome the £5 million for returners and the £20 million for the victims of domestic violence, and I am glad to see those important measures.
I am glad that the hon. Lady, like me, welcomes the money for victims of domestic violence. It is extremely important that the Government continue to recognise those victims, and I believe our Prime Minister is 100% behind doing exactly that.
I welcome the Budget, and I specifically welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to social mobility. I know that my constituents in Telford will benefit from the measures that she has set out.
I have heard a few Budgets in my time. The first was delivered by Sir Geoffrey Howe, who was a thoroughly decent man. Denis Healey unkindly said that Sir Geoffrey had been round the country stirring up apathy, but he was a decent man and I remember his Budget.
This Budget is deeply, deeply disappointing. In the context of the miserable votes last night, with this country heading headlong into a hard Brexit, I expected an imaginative Budget that prepares the country for what Harold Macmillan called, “Events, dear boy, events.” Well, we have already seen one such event from the First Minister of Scotland, and there will be many more from left field and right field. This country is going to be rocked by events over the coming years, and this Budget does not help anyone—nationally or regionally.
I represent Huddersfield, which is almost the average town in Britain, and it is in a dreadful state. They are going to close the accident and emergency services at our local hospital, and they are going to close the whole hospital. There is chaos across our country, not just in Huddersfield. Two thirds of the health services in our country are in dreadful trouble.
Most of the local authorities I know, especially the ones with indecent levels of deprivation and poverty—the ones in the average, real parts of our urban communities in Britain, not the ones in the leafy suburbs that some Conservative Members represent—are in deep trouble and are unable to bear the cost of social care and health. I was expecting something imaginative from the Budget, and we did not get it.
We also got very little indeed on education. Some earlier speakers asked where we could get alternative funding. Sir Edward Leigh and I used to sit together on the Liaison Committee, and I used to call him, very unkindly, a member of the “barmy army,” but he actually thinks a lot. He has always been quite provocative, and he always has something to say. The fact of the matter is that we need imagination and passion to solve our country’s problems, but I heard little passion from the Government Front Bench today. I feel passion because I believe that every little child in this country has a spark of potential. If we, as politicians, cannot create a system that liberates that spark, we are not doing our job.
As Sir Michael Wilshaw said, the disaster of our education system is that we find bright little kids in our primary schools and we lose them after the age of 11. What sort of country and what sort of school system is that? All parties have underachieved, but we have seen some real change. There are signs of improvement, and I shall briefly give the test that most primary school teachers use to assess a young person’s work. They use “two stars and a wish,” and these are my two stars. First, I give a star for the good fundamental policy approach to skills in this Budget. We have been languishing on skills policy for so long, but there is now some imagination there. Who would have thought it? They used to say that John Prescott was a crazy man of the left who wanted a levy for training. Conservative Members used to say that was an absolutely disgraceful left-wing horror. Well, we now have an apprenticeship levy, as we should. It comes in in April and I hope it will succeed.
The Government actually went about policy making in a sensible way. They took evidence and consulted. They put Lord Sainsbury in charge, along with the former Minister Nick Boles, who actually got to know something about skills and training. He has gone now, but some of us will miss him, because he listened. He introduced Lord Sainsbury to the skills commission that I chair, and I gave evidence to them both about what I wanted to see in skills policy. Some of that stuff is in the policy that came through in the Budget. I welcome such evidence-based policy. When I was Chair of the Education Committee, we used to applaud evidence-based policies, along with policies that seemed to work in countries like ours. So, there is something in the Budget in terms of skills, Alison Wolf’s recommendations to the Select Committee, and the work done by the Sainsbury review to talk to businesses, employers and practitioners on a cross-party basis. That is the way to make policy.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking with great passion and is doing his best to provide some solutions. May I give him another one? Perhaps we should end the fiction that national insurance contributions can pay for all social care. We should merge national insurance and taxation, simplify things, and try to raise more money that way.
I have already complimented the hon. Gentleman on being a good, out-of-the-box thinker, and that is another interesting suggestion to debate.
My second star is for productivity. Actually, it is only half a star, because we cannot really check. The Budget includes additional high-value investment, the national productivity investment fund and world-class infrastructure investment. I like most of that, except I am one of those quirky people who still cannot believe in High Speed 2 and in the fact that all that national treasure is being put into a railway that will be out of date by the time it opens in 2033. I think the money should be spent on the national health service, but I know I am in a minority on that.
The Budget also includes £300 million for the future development of the UK’s research talent and to attract talent from the research powerhouses of China, Brazil and Mexico. I like all that—it is all quite good stuff, so it gets half a star. All the stuff about disruptive technology investment to transform the UK economy, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence and robots is good stuff, but there has not been enough private sector research and development for a number of years. Co-operation between business and universities has not been good enough. We will never get the levels of productivity we want until we have the right kind relationships.
Finally, I come to my wish: for goodness’ sake, where is the evidence that grammar schools and free schools do anything to find the spark in children that we want to release? There is no evidence and no research. Not one reputable research institute or organisation in this country believes that a return to selective education will help anyone—quite the reverse. Look at all the research and the experience in other countries. Just look at Kent, for God’s sake! It is the most selective place in the country and it has the worst performance across all schools in the country. That is selective education. It has no research base and no experience base, and there is no global comparison of which we can say, “Isn’t it wonderful?” They do not have it in Denmark, Sweden or Finland. I doubt it is even the latest fashion in Shanghai.
I like policy that is based on good research and good evaluation, and yes, sometimes we should work across the party divide—that is the way to make policy. This Budget has not delivered it. We want that spark to be found and promoted—we want the country to be rich and successful in the challenging disaster of Brexit—but it is not in this Budget.
I am delighted to follow Mr Sheerman. We work together in many areas, including as co-chairs of the all-party group on manufacturing. He displayed his typical passion in his speech this afternoon. My view is that we must be forward looking in our approach and embrace an increasingly dynamic economy. If we tie that in with our industrial strategy, we have much to be optimistic about.
I start by acknowledging the positive news on employment. A record 31.8 million people are in work, which is reflected in the figures in my constituency. Businesses can be particularly proud of the fact that there has been a 74% fall in unemployment since 2010. Naturally, as the unemployment figure falls, it becomes increasingly difficult to reduce that figure further. For that reason, we must think differently about developing a skills base and investing in research and development. Industry 4.0 is a prime example of an idea that must be integrated into Government policy and that must span a range of Departments.
I also welcome the introduction of T-levels. Technical education has the potential to boost productivity. The new system, which will be introduced in 2019, increases the number of hours on such courses and includes good, strong work placements. I spoke in a recent debate on the productivity plan. If we are to improve productivity in the UK, we must first improve our domestic skills base. The £500 million per year in extra funding for technical education is a boost. Warwickshire college, which is in my constituency, is an example of what can be achieved.
Giving parity of respect to technical education in relation to A-levels has been something in which I have long believed. I am pleased that the Government have recognised the significance of this standard. More generally, strengthening ties between our education system and business should be a priority, particularly as the demands on businesses will continue to shift with the changing landscape of the economy.
I welcome the national productivity investment fund, which was announced in the autumn statement, and the funding that will be provided through the spring Budget to upgrade transport infrastructure. In the midlands, some £23 million will be directed towards improving the transport network. Wider spending on infrastructure with a focus on providing the very best framework for business is vital. The launch of the industrial strategy challenge fund is also very welcome, particularly with its focus on investing in innovation. It is absolutely the right approach to take and I hope that it can be built on as the strategy develops.
During the Queen’s speech debate last year, I spoke about the importance of shaping an industrial strategy to give certainty and confidence to British business. Despite being a little alone with that opinion on the Government Benches, I welcomed the industrial strategy Green Paper and the development of the Department. With this new funding, projects that further the capabilities of the automotive sector and that increase the longevity of batteries in electric vehicles can go a long way in securing a prosperous and sustainable future. Investment in infrastructure in tandem with investment in R and D is vital if our potential is to be realised.
The midlands is well placed to be at the forefront of such technologies, and it is in that context that I welcome the launch on Thursday of the midlands engine strategy, which specifically mentions the automotive industry and the fact that 39% of UK employment in the sector is in our region. With a strong science and research base, providing additional support to the midlands is the most effective way of enabling the UK to take a greater share of the international market. Regional empowerment should be a key consideration of Government policy. Sustained support for the midlands engine is, therefore, vital.
My final point is about the concern of a number of businesses in my constituency about business rates. In recent weeks, I have canvassed opinion locally on the upcoming changes to rateable values. By way of an example, a pub in my constituency is seeing a rise from £18,000 to £68,000. Another is seeing an increase from £33,000 to £94,000. Elsewhere, a business is seeing its rateable value rise to £12,500; being £500 above the rates relief threshold will mean a further tax bill of £6,000. Even for successful enterprises, these significant hikes in business rates risk jobs losses and closures of businesses altogether. The £1,000 business rates discount for one year for pubs with a rateable value of up to £100,000 is put into context with the rises I have just mentioned. Allocating £435 million towards supporting those that will be particularly impacted is welcome, but I urge the Chancellor to review the issue urgently.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech during an important debate on education and skills. Both are vital to the future success of my constituency, albeit a greater challenge following the sustained underfunding of Stoke schools.
It is a privilege to have been elected as the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central in an election that was not planned and following a campaign that, all too often, did not do justice to the wonderful city that I now represent. Many of my colleagues on these Benches—and, I would wager, on the Government Benches—who came to Stoke-on-Trent during the by- election would struggle to reconcile the vibrant, welcoming and proud city they visited with the portrait painted by the national media. All too often, cameras lingered over disused bottle kilns, while our resurgence in hi-tech ceramics went unmentioned. Journalists posed by abandoned shop fronts, just yards away from the city’s thriving cultural quarter, and rarely did our world-class university feature in reports. Commentators talked down my city in order to play up their narrative. They dismissed a capital of culture as little more than the capital of Brexit, pigeonholing my constituents into a box that does not reflect their true character.
While that narrative suited those seeking to win the election on a platform of hatred, division and nationalism dressed up as patriotism, it did a grave disservice to my city, whose motto is “United strength is stronger.” My city demonstrated that nationalism of any sort has no place in our politics. My challenge, for however long I am blessed to represent Stoke-on-Trent in this place, is to champion everything that is great and good about our city; to recognise our problems, but to highlight our many achievements; and to shout loud and often about why the Potteries, above all else, is the best place in the UK, if not the world.
In the Potteries, we are innovators and educators, artists and entrepreneurs. We pioneered the first industrial revolution—something that has been discussed quite a lot this afternoon—and we have the potential to lead the next. We are the home of Reginald Mitchell, Josiah Wedgwood, Clarice Cliff and, more recently, Robbie Williams. But, most importantly, we are home to the Staffordshire oatcake—a delicacy seldom found outside of the ST postcode but which, once savoured, is never forgotten.
Yes; I’ll bring some.
We were the beating heart of a ceramic empire that stretched to the four corners of the world and, today, proud members of the “turnover club” can be seen inspecting their tableware for that all important back stamp, hoping to find neatly inscribed on the back of their plate or cup the five greatest words in the English language: “Made in Stoke-on-Trent.” It is a ceremony my own daughter Hannah has taken up with vigour. Indeed, so enthusiastically does she wish to discover the origins of a dinner plate, she has on occasion forgotten to finish its contents before turning it over and depositing her lunch in her lap.
It was with utter joy, when I arrived in this place, that I discovered that my first cup of tea was from a wonderfully crafted cup produced, upon further inspection, by Dudson, from my city, which, although technically in Stoke-on-Trent North, I am sure my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth will not mind sharing for the purposes of this speech—I hope, anyway. But ceramics is not just our history and our heritage; it is our present, and with the right help from this Government, it can be our future, too.
Mr Speaker, in the middle of my constituency, on an otherwise unassuming window in the city centre, you will see a life-sized picture of TV’s Eric Knowles, best known as the ceramics expert on the “Antiques Roadshow”. He proudly proclaims that the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery boasts a greater collection of ceramics than even the Victoria and Albert Museum—a discussion I shall no doubt have with the V&A’s new director.
That allows me to segue neatly to pay tribute to my predecessor, Tristram Hunt. Although he was, like me, not a native son of Stoke-on-Trent, anyone who met Tristram knew that the Potteries had found its way into his heart. He was a fervent champion for Stoke-on-Trent, and never was an opportunity missed to extol the virtues of our six towns. His ability to bring people together and ignite in them a passion for the Potteries will be sorely missed.
But it was our city’s children who most preoccupied Tristram’s efforts. He knew that the best hope for our city’s continuing resurgence was to ensure that every young person had a good education and the best possible start to life. He was a champion of Sure Start—one of Labour’s greatest achievements and, for the doubters on the Conservative Benches, something we will rescue in the next Labour Government. He was a frequent visitor to the many wonderful schools across the constituency. He delivered the maths excellence partnership to improve standards in our local schools and give young people the skills they need to prosper.
Tristram used his talents to promote literacy, because he knew the value of inspiring children to read and to foster a love of books. His enduring legacy in Stoke-on-Trent Central will be a generation of children who, through his work on the now acclaimed Hot Air literary festival, have been able to expand their reading, take up creative writing and explore a world of literature that otherwise would have passed them by. As we speak today of the importance of education and training for post-Brexit Britain, these achievements, and the ongoing challenges, are as important as ever.
Tristram was a thoughtful and forceful voice in this House and beyond, and I know that his contributions will be missed, but he is one of a long line of distinguished parliamentarians to have represented Stoke-on-Trent Central. Whether it was Mark Fisher and his campaigns on local health services and to ensure the sovereignty of Parliament, or Bob Cant as a keen advocate for local government, my constituency has been ably served by dedicated public servants, and I will do my utmost to continue in that tradition. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
My predecessor was a man who loved our movement’s history, but I am a man who has lived it. Growing up with my grandfather, a union rep for the old Transport and General Workers Union, I was taught from a young age that the greatest strength that working people have is our solidarity. It was a lesson that he embodied in his own life, representing his colleagues at the chicken factory where he worked, and representing his friends and neighbours as a Labour councillor.
My childhood taught me always to stand up for what I believe and always to speak my mind. The latter, it must be said, has sometimes brought mixed results. [Interruption.] Yes, 140 characters are coming out later. Nevertheless, that advice has served me well, and my wife Sophia and I will be proud to pass it on to our daughter, Hannah.
I would also like to put on record my thanks to the Labour movement, including friends in the Labour party, the Co-operative party and the trade unions, for their assistance in my election. Particular thanks must go to my hon. Friend Jack Dromey and to my new neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello).
Ours is a politics based on comradeship in which the strength of our common endeavour means that we really do achieve more together than we achieve alone. Those same values of fairness, co-operation and social justice run through the history of Stoke-on-Trent and its people. They were on display in 1942 when the north Staffordshire mining community helped rebuild the village of Lidice in the Czech Republic after it was razed by the Nazis. The driving force behind that crusade was another of my predecessors, Sir Barnett Stross, who said at the time:
“The miner’s lamp dispels the shadows on the coal face. It can also send a ray of light across the sea to those who struggle in darkness.”
At its best, that is what the Labour movement has always been—a ray of light for those who struggle in darkness. It is my immense privilege to be part of that movement here in Parliament, and to try in my own small way to help to hold that lamp aloft. It is a responsibility that I will do my best to meet as I strive to give a voice to the people I represent and showcase all that is great about Stoke-on-Trent.
It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech given by Gareth Snell. We all remember our maiden speeches. I personally thought the hon. Gentleman made an excellent speech full of passion and conviction. Perhaps a little shiver went through those on these Benches at hearing a man of conviction, which is what this House needs, in my humble opinion, on many occasions. From Staffordshire oatcakes to the ceramic empire, we heard it all. The hon. Gentleman represents an honourable seat and I am sure he will do an honourable job.
I congratulate the Government on doing an excellent job so far, bearing in mind the appalling inheritance that we had back in 2010, along with the banking crisis and many other factors that led to the massive cash crisis that we face. The UK economy is forecast to grow by 2%, real wages are forecast to rise every year to 2021, the deficit is due to fall, and the debt in proportion to national income is also due to fall. All this, and more, is most welcome, and I congratulate the Government of whom I am proud to be a member.
I am also glad that the Government are not ashamed, as they should not be, to mention the dire financial circumstances that our country still faces. Wherever I go in my constituency—I am sure that most Members are the same—we cannot brush over the fact that we are still on a knife edge. We are told—the figures are there—that there is debt of £1.7 trillion, or £62,000 per household; that private debt, which is not often mentioned, is a similar figure; and that there is £50 billion a year of debt interest, which is more than we spend on defence and policing put together. These are horrifying figures that Government Front Benchers are desperately trying to deal with.
I would not be doing my duty as a Member of Parliament if I did not raise a few of my concerns about the Budget, although overall I support it. The word “fairness” is used a lot by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for reasons I quite understand, but I am not sure that it entirely resounds with those who are going to be affected by one or two tax rises. As a Conservative, I long to hear from a Conservative Chancellor a vision for this country that involves a massive reform of our tax system, which today is one of the most complicated in the world. For example, why cannot we have a flat-rate income tax of, say, 30%? KISS—keep it simple, stupid—is what we were told in the Army, and I think that there is a lot of room for that in the tax system of this country.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting speech. The reason why we cannot have a flat-rate tax—this is not often mentioned by Labour Members—is that the top 2% pay a quarter of all income tax. It would therefore be impossible to move to a true flat-rate tax, but we could completely simplify the tax system, perhaps by having two rates. We could also try to merge capital taxes, and their terms and rates, much more into income tax. We could therefore start to get rid of the poverty and unemployment trap.
I entirely concur with my hon. Friend. As always, his intervention was absolutely spot on.
Another point I have noticed during the six or seven years I have been in the House is that everything is ring-fenced—every Department is ring-fenced. The Chancellor says, as we have heard previous Chancellors say, that there is so little room for manoeuvre. May I suggest that we take away the ring fence, think radically about areas such as the national health service—my hon. Friend mentioned it—and try to look at things far more in the round for the future of our country? I would have liked to have heard a lot more about Brexit, and the future—where we are going—in the vision from the Chancellor, as I do not believe that we heard about that.
I want to touch on one or two other issues, the first of which is the national insurance hike. I must say that I am concerned about that because many people who will be affected work and live in my constituency of South Dorset. The money raised will be relatively pitiful, but 2.5 million people are facing an average rise of £240. We have heard about a manifesto pledge being broken, and I believe it has been broken. I am not saying that manifesto pledges cannot be broken, because circumstances may change, meaning that they have to be broken.
I have consistently argued that if we are to look for more money, the overseas aid budget is the area that we should consider. Many of my constituents certainly believe that we should help the less well-off—of course we should. However, setting an arbitrary figure for such aid of 0.7% of GDP—interestingly, the average figure for the EU is 0.4%—is a pledge too far. It is also a pledge that this country clearly cannot afford, because many areas of our national life are now calling for more money.
Self-employed people take risks that the employed do not, as we all know. They risks their homes, livelihoods and families. That is one reason why they have, or did have, such a tax advantage. I know that there has been equality as far as pensions are concerned, but I still believe that the risk takers, the entrepreneurs and the aspirational —the people we need to create wealth, prosperity and jobs for our future, especially as we move to leaving the EU—should not be penalised.
I am not happy about quarterly reporting. The self-employed and small businesses will be required to fill in four income tax returns a year instead of one. They will need to do so digitally, but if hon. Members speak to farmers about applying for grants digitally, they will find that that is not always easy. Such people will require an accountant and there will be extra costs. Income tax will have to be paid at the end of each quarter, rather than in one or two instalments each year, and that will inevitably affect cash flow. It is important—in the good times or the bad times that we know businesses experience—to have an annual look at a business, rather than for it to be affected during a poor period by a cash payment that has an impact on its cash flow.
Another area that I am concerned about is probate fees. At the moment, probate costs are capped at £215. It is worth noting that the costs on estates of over £50,000 could now range from £300 to £20,000. The press have dubbed this a “death tax”, and I think that that is a fair comment.
On death taxes, I want to mention inheritance tax—I declare an interest. I think that inheritance tax is completely immoral. We pay a lot of tax all our lives, and when we die, as we cannot avoid doing, 40% is charged by the state. In my view, that is completely immoral. Let me quote the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said at the last election:
“We will take the family home out of inheritance tax. That home that you have worked and saved for belongs to you and your family—you should be able to pass it onto your children”.
I entirely concur.
In my remaining minute, let me say that I want the abolition of inheritance tax, a review of capital gains tax and the simplification of the whole tax system. I also want much more investment in technology colleges— I entirely agree with George Kerevan—where I think the future lies for all the jobs that we will need to fill. If money is needed, I want the overseas aid budget to be targeted, rather than any other ring-fenced area.
The situation regarding business rates concerns me. In the view of Tim Martin, the very able founding chairman of Wetherspoons, who came to address my apprenticeship fair last week, supermarkets will get away with it and his pubs will get hammered. Finally, may I gently ask Ministers that we stop using the terms “tax avoidance” and “tax evasion” in the same sentence? Tax evasion is illegal; tax avoidance is something we all do for our families’ sake. I would be grateful if we could stop using the two terms together.
I start by congratulating my new hon. Friend Gareth Snell. His speech was interesting and very hopeful, given the economic situation that the people of Stoke-on-Trent, like the rest of the country, are suffering from. I am sure their new Member will do his adopted city proud, as I try to do for Coventry.
Let us look at the Budget in the context of the austerity measures that the Government have pursued. They will have lasted far longer than the time from the start of the second world war to the end of rationing, and we wonder why people like Donald Trump get elected—it is because austerity has gone on far too long in America, like in this country and in Europe. I would have expected the Budget to have offered at least some sort of hope to the British people, but all we had was a further dose of austerity.
The Government told us that the deficit would be eliminated by the end of the last Parliament—another promise that they have broken. In fact, the Chancellor is now extending the deficit. Taxes are increasing while real wages are falling. The TUC’s analysis has found that the UK ranks 103rd out of 112 countries for pay growth. Some 6 million people earn less than the living wage and 4 million children are in poverty. The Government have not really addressed those issues.
When Labour left office, Britain retained its triple A rating, we had low interest rates to help poorer families, and 85,000 more nurses and 32,000 more doctors had been trained. The current Government, and the coalition before them, have been living off the benefits of that.
Another broken manifesto promise by the Government is on national insurance contributions. That was touched on earlier, so I will not elaborate too much on it, but it will affect self-employed people, particularly those in lower pay brackets such as taxi drivers and people working in pubs. The rich will not necessarily be better off as a result, but the change will hit hard-working people.
In the case of welfare, there has been no reversal of the personal independence payment cuts and the changes to employment and support allowance, which will hit disabled people hard. There have been demonstrations about that, and I am sure that my colleagues will have been lobbied about it at their surgeries. Yet the Government have started a process that will allow some people to pass on property free from inheritance tax.
Not only do we get lobbied in our surgeries but we get lobbied at home—my son, a self-employed electrician, was speaking to me about this the other day. Not only is he being hammered for NICs, but he is having to do quarterly tax returns—he is tempted to vote Labour! That is the unfortunate side effect, from the Government’s point of view. Does my hon. Friend accept that the Conservatives are no longer the party of the self-employed—the party of white van man and woman? They are the party of themselves, and of the wealthy, the rich and those who are not bothered by what have been described as “pitiful” sums of money.
Simply put, the Conservative party was never on the side of the working man, so nothing has changed there. I am quite surprised at times that some people vote for the Conservatives.
Healthcare has been touched on in today’s debate. The funding for social care is welcome, but it is too little, too late. It is putting a plaster over a big wound, and it will not solve the long-term issues. Funding for the national health service is needed, but the funding that has been announced will not help in the longer term; more investment is needed. Council tax increases will raise money in the short term, but they will not solve the problem in the longer term. In Coventry, the increase in council tax will generate about £443 million, but the national living wage increases will cost about £600 million. The Government have abdicated their responsibility for social care and they are shifting the burden on to local authorities and local people, rather than paying for it from general taxation.
Turning to pensions, we were lobbied last week by what we call the WASPI women, but there is nothing in the Budget to address the problems that they face. Women’s issues have certainly been mentioned in this debate, and in many debates in this House over a long period of time. Yet again, however, the Government have done nothing to address the issues that really affect the WASPI women. I will not go into the detail of the hardship that they experience, because it is well known to the House, but the Government have done nothing to address it. The Government boast that there are more women in work. That might be true, but they forget to mention that a lot of women—many of them in lower-paid, manual jobs—will have to work for longer.
The business rate changes will hit small businesses on the high street the hardest. The £1,000 relief for pubs is not a lot in the great scheme of things. It is only a gesture, and it will not help in a meaningful way.
Let us look at education. Instead of funding free schools, money should be invested in our existing schools. Schools are being asked to find £3 billion of cuts, and resources are already stretched to breaking point. Local authorities in Coventry have always taken the decision to fund schools well, but the national funding formula will leave pupils with less funding, even though the Government say that no pupil will be worse off. Will they guarantee money to ensure that the national funding formula does not leave Coventry schools with a shortfall?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that, by 2020, school funding per pupil will have been cut, in real terms, by 6.5%. Funding for 16-to-18 education will be on a level similar, in real terms, to that of 30 years ago. The Chancellor has ignored the funding crisis in the Budget. The cost of employing staff is growing because of increases in employers’ contributions to national insurance and pensions, plus pay increases, but there has been no additional funding for that from the Government.
Women will still have to prove that their third or subsequent child was the product of rape to get child benefit. Once again, we see women being discriminated against by the Government. Women are still disproportionally affected by austerity, and the £20 million fund for violence against women is not enough to offset the cuts that they have faced since 2010. That fund is likely to be a repeat of the £20 million announced last November; it may well not be new money.
In the midlands, although the £392 million of funding through the local growth fund is welcome, it is not sufficient if we have any real intention of developing the west midlands economy. Listen to this: Coventry and Warwickshire will get only £42.4 million, which is not a lot when we consider the area. There will be £20 million for the midlands skills challenge to improve employment prospects for people in the area, £4 million to support the midlands engine partnership, £12 million for commercial and housing developments and broadband infrastructure, and £11 million to support skills and apprenticeships in Coventry and Warwickshire. That will not solve the problems that the country faces.
Although investment is welcome, there is also a housing crisis that needs tackling. London has been awarded nearly 10 times as much for housing. Since 2010, there has been a 40% cut in Government funding to local councils, and small businesses and high streets will be hit hard by business rates rises, but that has not been addressed in the midlands engine strategy. By 2020, the Conservative Government will have cut £655 million from Coventry City Council’s budget, and the midlands engine strategy will not cover that shortfall. Social care and our NHS desperately need funding, and Coventry and Warwickshire local authorities expect a deficit of £33 million by 2020-21 in social care. The midlands engine proposal is superficially attractive, but it will not address the long-term issues in the west midlands.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Gareth Snell on his excellent maiden speech, which I enjoyed very much. It moved many of us to laughter and tears. I gently correct him on one point: Stoke is not the centre of the known universe. That would be another place in the west midlands called Birmingham, but I will let him off on this occasion because that was a first-rate start to his parliamentary career and I wish him all the very best.
I want to focus my remarks on the Government’s record and their failure on their own terms. I note with interest that the Government Benches are all but empty. That may be because Government Back Benchers are not exactly lining up to defend the increase in national insurance, given the row that has erupted between No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street, but the reason may go back further than that. Long before the Government’s broken manifesto commitment on national insurance, the Government failed the test they set for themselves: their central mission when they came into government in 2010, and the one promise they made to this country, was that they would eliminate the deficit in five years and that the age of austerity was the only way to achieve it.
The Budget documents are clear. In 2016-17—I am glad more Government Members are coming into the Chamber, so they can hear about their Government’s failure on the deficit in person—the deficit will be £51.7 billion. In 2017-18, it will be £58.3 billion. Even in 2021-22, it will still be £16.8 billion. On this trajectory, the deficit will not be eliminated until 2025-26: a full 15 years after their famous promise, made in 2010, to eliminate the deficit in five years.
That is the true shameful record of this Government, but it sits alongside a much starker and more catastrophic reality on living standards for ordinary working people. [Interruption.] Government Members should stop chuntering and listen to what they have done to ordinary working people. On current forecasts, average earnings will be no higher in 2022 than they were in 2007. That amounts to 15 years without a pay rise for ordinary working people. According to the Resolution Foundation, by 2020 families will have missed out on pay growth of £12,000: the worst decade in 210 years. That is what the Government have delivered for ordinary working people country. They used to taunt us on the Labour Benches with a slogan about us not fixing the roof while the sun was shining. For people going 15 years without a pay rise, it is as if the sun never shone at all.
On pay, wages, jobs and growth, I was particularly disappointed that the Government failed to take action to offset the planned cuts to universal credit later in this Parliament. I say to Conservative Members, who rightly kicked up such a fuss on the changes to tax credits planned by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the U-turn was not truly a U-turn. The cuts are still coming down the tracks. Many of the same people will be affected when those currently on tax credits are moved on to universal credit towards the end of this Parliament. At the moment, only 170,000 or so people are in receipt of universal credit. By the end of this Parliament, millions of families will be on universal credit.
The Secretary of State’s warm words on opportunity mean nothing given what the Government are doing to the working poor. The cuts to work allowances will total £6.4 billion by the end of this Parliament. Only a tiny concession was given at the autumn statement by the Chancellor when he reduced the taper rate from 65% to 63%. It remains the case that lone parents on the national living wage with one child in 2021 earning £16,000 will lose £2,800. The measures in the autumn statement will give them back only £200 of that money, so they will be £2,600 a year worse off. Those are not small sums. They are the difference between keeping a roof over your head and being homeless. They are the difference between putting food on the table or watching the children go hungry. That record of delivery that the Government are putting on the people of our country in the 21st century is unacceptable.
In the end, politics is always about choices and priorities. This Government have made the choice to cut corporation taxes, totalling £11.2 billion by 2021-22. They could have made a different choice. They could have chosen to spend that money elsewhere, perhaps on universal credit or social care or to alleviate the crisis in the national health service. This is a choice that they are making. It is not the case that cuts to corporation tax are necessary to ensure that we have job growth in our country. We have seen what has happened to wages, and we know that business investment is nowhere near where it should be. The cuts to corporation tax are therefore being pocketed as profit more than they are delivering for the rest of the economy. They should be reconsidered. The Government’s choices thus far have made ordinary people pay the price, which is unacceptable.
Before I start, may I say how proud and delighted I am to be joined on these green Benches by my new hon. Friend Gareth Snell who made a wonderful maiden speech? I am now grateful that I knocked on every door when it was raining. [Interruption.] We can send him back now.
What we heard last week was a Budget bereft of ideas from a Government in want of a plan. It offered no solution to the crisis in our NHS, no vision for our country’s future outside the EU and no offer of hope for the Potteries, which I am so proud to represent. Its alleged support for health and social care amounted to little more than an empty gesture in the face of crippling financial crisis within our NHS.
The Budget prioritised the vanity projects of an out-of-touch Prime Minister over fixing our struggling education system. It is timid in the face of unprecedented challenges; indeed, it is bold in only one respect—in its choice of victims. The Chancellor will no doubt have been counting his blessings that he had a ministerial car in which to flee the scene last week, because I am sure that the cabbies of central London would have painted him a clear and somewhat colourful picture of what his announcement on national insurance is set to do to their take-home pay.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis, I can tell my hon. Friend that taxi drivers as well as other self-employed workers cannot understand why their burden as relatively low-paid workers should increase while there are tax cuts for the very richest. Is this not one of the many reasons why there are so few Conservative Members on the Government Benches to defend this terrible Budget?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. As the niece of a black cab driver, I should really declare an interest.
It seems that, as far as the Chancellor is concerned, the “strivers” that his party claims to stand up for are not striving quite hard enough. It is beyond belief that at a time when Britain needs to rebuild and rejuvenate its economy, this Government have chosen to impose a tax on hard work and entrepreneurship. It is also a tax on aspiration, something that we should promote, not attack. I remind hon. Members that this was billed by many as the last pre-Brexit Budget, yet the glaring omission in the Chancellor’s plans was any clear vision of what Britain might look like after Brexit and what sort of investment and Government support might be needed to get us there.
As for constituencies like mine, which voted overwhelmingly to leave, there seemed to be no consideration of the investment and support needed to make sure that places like Stoke-on-Trent can benefit and thrive from our new relationship with the world. There is no clearer example of this than the Government’s approach to education and skills, which is the single biggest issue raised by all the employers and educators in my constituency when we discuss industrial strategy—another phrase sorely missed from the Budget.
Schools in my constituency are losing an average of £400 per pupil, and our city is crying out for proper investment in skills and education. Instead, the Chancellor is choking the life out of our public education system, while pouring millions into a doomed experiment in selective education. That lack of commitment to our wider education system is deeply concerning, because the single most important thing that we can do to improve the economy of my great city and others is to improve the skills of the people who live and work there.
It is not a lack of will that is holding my young people back: they are enthusiastic and keen to work. What is missing is the support and investment to ensure that they are fulfilling their potential, learning the skills that they need in order to succeed and gaining the qualifications to prove it. Last week I visited a wonderful primary school in my constituency—the best primary school in the city, even—which is already having to choose between teachers and computers. It is not two to one for books; it is two to one for computers. That is why it is so wrong —at a time when we should be upskilling our communities for the challenges of the future so that they can embrace the fourth industrial revolution—for the Government to focus on a grammar school system that will benefit only a select few and overwhelmingly favour those from more privileged backgrounds, rather than providing the basics for every child in every school.
We need to ensure that all our schools are properly funded, and that we have a robust system of early intervention to support the most vulnerable families right from the start. That is why our children’s centres, our primary and secondary schools and our further education system need investment, not vanity projects. If we are to make the best out of Brexit, which we now desperately need to do, we must ensure that our communities are ready to seize those opportunities. We need a workforce that is ready for the jobs of the future, we need a universal and properly funded education system, and we need to ensure that all our young people are supported so that they can realise their potential. We need a better deal for the next generation, not this ideologically driven waste of public funds.
I echo what has already been said about the fantastic maiden speech of my new hon. Friend Gareth Snell. I went with him to visit a maintained nursery school in Stoke, and I know how committed he is to education and skills in the area. That brings me to the main thrust of my own speech.
After nearly seven years, the cumulative effect of Government policy on education and skills is now being felt by pupils, parents and teachers, and has given rise to a number of serious issues, each of which should demand the full attention of Ministers. School budgets are falling for the first time in 20 years. There is a teacher shortage crisis. There has been a huge rise in pupil numbers, requiring about 400,000 new school places. We are seeing the biggest changes in GCSEs and the curriculum for a generation, of which many people are unaware. Primary assessment is in absolute chaos: the pass rate in last year’s standard assessment tests fell from more than 80% to an appalling 53%. We have seen the introduction of more free childcare with insufficient funding, and serious failings in capacity and oversight in the schools system. Many of the Government’s previous “pet projects” have failed and closed. All that has come on top of what the Secretary of State described today as the biggest revolution for a decade in technical education.
Any one of those issues should command the undivided attention of Ministers, but they want to impose two huge further changes on the schools system: a new funding formula which seems to have left all sides unhappy, and the reintroduction of grammar schools without a shred of evidence, which has shone a light on the woeful record of existing grammar schools in supporting children from poorer backgrounds. The Budget had nothing to say about social mobility, closing the productivity gap, or creating the high-wage, high-skills economy that we need. Perhaps the Government would have done better to spend more of their time sorting out the last set of experiments that they said would create “more choice”. What has happened to them? Let us take a look.
Since 2010, when the Government introduced their previous gimmicks—university technical colleges, studio schools and free schools—there have been huge problems and a massive waste of resources. More than 1 in 10 UTCs has closed, and many more are now on the brink. While there are a few excellent UTCs, even Michael Gove—who had introduced them—admitted that the experiment had failed, saying:
“the evidence has accumulated and the verdict is clear”.
Three in 10 studio schools have closed or are due to close, as Schools Week analysis has found, and many more are on the brink of closure. Only one has reached the 300-pupil mark that was set. The future is therefore looking bleak for those experimental institutions, yet the Government are hellbent on creating more. One in five free schools are in places where they are not needed. With the starving of capital funds to existing schools, and the failure to meet the places crisis by continuing to throw good money after bad, this Budget does nothing to deal with the real issues facing our schools.
Even though we are awaiting the outcome of the Government’s consultation, we heard this week that the Government are hellbent on going ahead with their grammar schools programme, which they are now calling “selective free schools.” I note that the Secretary of State is so ashamed of that policy that she did not even mention it in her speech today. I reiterate that there are very few Conservative Members in the Chamber to defend that policy.
Yes. We can infer that. The evidence is clear on selective education. Those systems do not boost social mobility. In fact, in many cases they widen the gap. As we all know in the House, the big challenge facing our education system is the long tail of under- achievement. It is not about how we can better support the already high-achieving. The only argument advanced by Conservative Members is that the tiny number of children on free school meals who get into grammar schools, who by definition are already high-achieving, do better than all the other children on free school meals. What a joke of an argument that is to base the entire policy on. There is a huge amount of evidence going the other way.
Perhaps that is why, when the Secretary of State addressed the usually mild-mannered and pragmatic Association of School and College Leaders at the weekend, she got booed, which has never happened at that conference before. It may also be why the Sutton Trust, the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission, the Education Policy Institute, the former chief inspector of schools, all the secondary heads in Surrey and many, many others and many Conservative Members have come out against those proposals.
There are plenty of things that the Government should be doing, and we have mentioned a few of them. Perhaps they should get to those core issues, rather than creating yet more uncertainty and instability in the system. They should get on with doing something about the major funding challenge. This is not about fair funding—it is about funding levels being maintained at the levels they are now. The belts are being tightened even more for some schools, but all schools are losing out from those funding measures.
The Government should do something about teacher shortages. For five years in a row, they have missed their retention and recruitment challenges. They should do something about the school places crisis and work with local authorities, rather than plonking free schools where they are not needed. And get a grip on what is happening with the new GCSEs and curriculum. There is absolute chaos there.
If the Government really want to do something about social mobility, they could do a lot worse than look at investing properly in quality provision in the early years, rather than trying to deliver child care on the cheap. There is plenty of evidence to support it, and I am happy to discuss that with Ministers if they want to have a real agenda for social mobility.
Sometimes we hear Government Members and the Prime Minister herself talk as though when Labour was in power, we did nothing for health, education, children, the homeless, older people and other vulnerable groups, but let me take the six Conservative Members who are sitting in the Chamber on a trip down memory lane. In 1997, when hospital waiting lists were more than three years, people were lying on hospital trolleys, and hospital staff and others were completely demoralised, we spent millions and millions of pounds on repairing hospitals and investing in people—in nurses and in doctors—and in hospital services, so that when we left office in 2010 the NHS was a brilliant service. The Tories inherited that and they are now destroying it.
We had the mantra “education, education, education,” and we followed it with real funding in our education system. I am sure people will remember that there were run-down schools, some with leaking roofs, and demoralised teachers, and all the extra funding that we put in. This Government now take credit for our education doing so well, but that is because of the investment we put in from 1997. We also took half a million children out of poverty and began the Sure Start programme, which helps young people; if we really want to help young people from poorer backgrounds to succeed, we need to ensure that early years education is good, and Sure Start helped many families.
We also introduced the education maintenance allowance for 16 to 18-year-olds, which helped many young people from poorer families to stay on at school or college. That was abolished by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government, and now many young people, instead of being able to stay on and study at school or college, are having to go to the jobcentre to sign on, and are not getting any extra training or learning. That is one of this Government’s most counterproductive actions, and it is driven purely by ideological considerations.
Yes, we did create academies, but only when schools were failing, and often in poorer parts of the country, to improve educational levels. Since 2010 this Government have been forcing many outstanding schools to become academies by offering them extra money. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on forced academisation and on free schools when many ordinary schools are suffering, and the funding formula has now been changed, affecting many ordinary schools in my constituency. It would have been far better to spend money on most schools than on the ideologically driven academisation of even very, very good schools. I was very disappointed that the Chancellor did not bother to reintroduce something like the education maintenance allowance or redress the funding formula so that all schools can benefit.
Everybody accepts that early years education is very important for children. The Bolton alliance of nursery providers has come to see me on a number of occasions and talked about the fact that although the Government have promised 30 nursery hours, the funding formula that goes with it is just not enough for providers to be able to offer proper provision in nurseries. These providers are not big businesses: for example, one nursery owner says that they will go out of business because they just cannot afford to offer a decent level of nursery provision. I raised this point at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions when I asked, “Can we please reconsider the funding for nursery education?”
I am afraid that, again, this Budget does not address anything. We are told, of course, that a lot of the cuts and the austerity are all to do with balancing the books, but this Conservative Government have borrowed £1 trillion in the last seven years, so our debt is higher than it has ever been. Let us not have lectures from the Government who say that the Conservative party is the party of economic prudence or the party of getting the country going; it is not.
The national debt to GDP ratio is now over 80%, yet when the Labour Government came into office in 1997 it was only about 40%, and after a few years of that Labour Government being in power it was 34% of GDP. Again, no lessons are required from the Conservative party about who is economically prudent and who is not.
We on the Opposition Benches propose a different future, because this Budget has done nothing for jobs, nothing to increase people’s pay, nothing for people on lower incomes, and nothing for many, many people who are worse off and have been the subject of the austerity cuts. We need a Government who will not abdicate their responsibility, nor sit on the sidelines. We need a serious approach to the economy. We do not need a laughing, complacent Chancellor; we need one who protects our living standards and jobs and the environment.
I proudly share the mining heritage of Gareth Snell, who is no longer in his place. Although I might not agree with quite everything he says, I commend him for his passionate and quite excellent speech, and for his extremely kind and honest words about his predecessor. Stoke-on-Trent certainly has a new champion, and we on these Benches wish him all the very best for his future in this place.
My hon. Friends on these Benches have made numerous salient points regarding the shortfalls of this Budget, which is noticeably a much thinner document than last year’s pre-EU referendum spring Budget. A thinner document, and yet thinner gruel within. I would like to focus on the glaring issue of the extraordinarily misleading employment statistics used as a foundation for many of the new proposals in this Budget. The Chancellor has claimed that 2.7 million more people are
“enjoying the security and dignity of work than in 2010”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 809.]
I cannot fathom how he can describe as dignified the gig economy that has emerged since 2010, which is filled with zero-hours contracts and insecure temporary work, or the huge growth in the number of individuals who are self-employed through necessity rather than choice. In fact, the working conditions faced by many today are far less dignified than those faced by people a decade ago. Also, many of those workers now face the loss of the minimal remaining employment rights that have been secured by the EU due to the coming hard Tory Brexit.
The Chancellor has stated that he does not want to saddle the next generation with ever increasing debts. I would suggest that he consider addressing that problem by taking a closer look at the funding allocated to the Department for Work and Pensions Work programme. Since 2011, more than £1 billion has been spent on attachment fees, job outcome payments and sustainment payments, all of which are rather nice-sounding euphemisms for what the Government have really been doing: paying off employers—often large chain retailers—to hire Work programme participants to stack shelves or work on shop tills. Not only does this grossly skew the Government’s employment statistics; it also sheds light on the issue of stagnating productivity. It hardly seems a stretch to suggest that if that £1 billion had been used to invest, rather than to aid the UK Government in fudging their employment statistics, productivity might be just a little higher.
I would like briefly to address the Chancellor’s claim that individuals elect to be self-employed, rather than a regular employee of a business, due to the marginally lower rate of national insurance they are required to pay. This point was made very articulately by my hon. Friend George Kerevan. That might be the case for wealthy consultants in the City of London, but it is certainly not the case for the numerous builders, joiners, electricians and other tradesmen I have spoken to in my constituency, and others all over Scotland.
“I remind the Committee of the purpose here. It is to emphasise and underline our commitment not to increase national insurance contribution rates in the course of this Parliament.”––[Official Report, National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Public Bill Committee,
What does my hon. Friend think went wrong?
Alas and alack, it appears that word is seldom kept in this place.
The people I was describing often do jobs for the same companies for years on end, but the companies will not hire them as regular employees due to the cost of providing them with basic employee benefits. This means that they do not have maternity or paternity leave, sick leave or paid holidays; nor do they have the security of knowing whether they will be employed in a month’s time. The insinuation by the Chancellor that these individuals elect to give up all those benefits for the sake of saving a small percentage of their income on national insurance payments is absurd and hugely offensive. If the Chancellor would like to address the gap in revenue due to the growing trend of self-employment, I suggest that a fairer and more effective way would be to tackle those companies that hire workers only as self-employed contractors, in order to avoid paying employee benefits, rather than blaming those who are subjected to these unfair employment practices.
The Chancellor has presented yet another Tory Budget that blames working people for the economic problems created by the London-centric elite. It offers nothing new to address the existing economic problems faced by so many; nor will it protect working people from the fallout from this hard Tory Brexit. So much for caring Conservatism!
After seven years of economic failure, missed deficit reduction targets, deteriorating public services, increasingly insecure employment, and an explosion in the number of food banks supporting working people, my expectations for this Conservative Budget were already low, but have we ever had a Budget so lacking in substance? With breathtaking complacency, it made no mention of the greatest economic challenge facing this country: Brexit. It is clear from the debate this afternoon that the Government have no clue about what they want from Brexit or how much it is going to cost.
Eliminating the UK’s deficit by 2015 used to be the Government’s overriding goal. That target has now been dumped and public debt is climbing to almost £2 trillion. Is this the long-term economic plan so often wildly cheered from the Government Benches? Our public services have paid the price of failure. NHS waiting lists are rising, and our social care system faces a huge funding black hole. In Redcar and Cleveland, the amount spent on social care has gone down in real terms by a fifth under this Government despite rising demand, and there are 400 fewer police officers keeping our streets safe in Cleveland.
Our schools are losing funding, too. In Redcar and Cleveland, schools will lose a whopping £7.8 million by 2020—£422 per pupil in one of the most deprived areas in the country. As my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman said, while our primary schools are in the top 10 in the country, our secondary schools desperately need more support, and the newly departed Lord Heseltine highlighted our poor secondary education in his report on the Tees valley. When the Government close our steelworks and batter our local economy, leading to the loss of over 3,000 jobs and a youth unemployment rate two and a half times the national average, the Secretary of State for Education owes it to our region to invest in the future of our young people, not to snuff out their potential before they have begun.
Teesside has suffered from the loss of well-paid industrial jobs and from falling living standards. Unemployment in the Tees valley has been above 10% for most of the time that the Conservatives have been in office. Austerity has hit many families in my constituency. Over 2,000 people were affected by the bedroom tax and others by unfair benefit sanctions and cuts to tax credits. Living standards are falling, with average annual wages forecast to rise much more slowly than expected over the next four years. At the same time, families are turning to credit to make ends meet. The household debt forecast has been revised up to £189 billion by 2021.
What Teessiders really needed from this Budget was support on the big challenges we face: infrastructure, industry, and skills to give our local economy the boost it needs. Despite the difficulties of the past few years, I strongly believe that our region is on the cusp of a new industrial renaissance. A high degree of investment and development is coming to the region, including the petrochemicals site at Wilton and the former SSI site. Sirius Minerals and MGT Power are both investing in Redcar and Cleveland. However, that investment, and the opportunities that come with it, will not benefit local people unless there is a skills revolution and we get the necessary technical education to capitalise on future industrial opportunities.
The Chancellor did not face up to the challenges facing our country or our workforce. He did not take action to address the unfairness that is holding back areas such as mine. The north-east continues to lose out on regional investment, funding for infrastructure, and investment in education and skills to develop the industries of the future. The Budget made no mention of the north of England, of the so-called northern powerhouse or, indeed, of the industrial strategy, as pointed out by my hon. Friend and neighbour Mr Wright.
What is more, the future of Teesside’s economic resilience will depend upon the success of our small and medium-sized businesses. Many small local businesses have been in touch with me about the huge impact of the Government’s business rates revaluation. The Chancellor’s measures to soften the burden are welcome, but there will still be a rise for most. Moreover, the area’s self-employed workers will not have been happy to learn that their national insurance contributions will rise, despite a manifesto promise by the Tories not to increase them. Many ex-steelworkers went self-employed after the closures, with Government funding actively encouraging them, and now many will be hit by the rise. The wrong priorities were at the heart of this Budget. It was a paper-thin, miserable, brittle Budget that came after seven years of crippling economic failure and austerity. I heard no vision in it for a post-Brexit Britain or for the Tees valley.
It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Anna Turley and to hear a terrific maiden speech from our new colleague, my hon. Friend Gareth Snell, who will be a great asset to the Labour movement, the Opposition and this House.
It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State for Education begin her speech by saying that the Budget was delivered on International Women’s Day, as indeed it was. That makes the insult all the greater that the Government chose not to mention the WASPI women who have been campaigning for fairness. Those women were born in the 1950s and often left school at 15. They are women who have dedicated their life to their job and their family, yet they got not one word from the Chancellor.
Like many Members, last week in Parliament I met a delegation of local women who have been affected by the changes to the state pension law. Women came down from Chirk, Rhostyllen and Llangollen in my constituency. Those women, of whom there are more than 3 million across our country, are not political militants. They do not oppose the equalisation of the pension age, and they certainly do not want the state pension age to go down to 60. All they are asking for is a bit of fairness—a bridging pension to provide for them. It is downright shameful that the Government chose not to listen to them.
Budgets are about choices, and I cannot accept that the Government have put agreeing to £17 billion-worth of corporation tax cuts, £2.8 billion-worth of inheritance tax cuts and many other items above modest bridging support for these women. I am interested in the figures on inheritance tax—my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves recently wrote an excellent article on the subject—because I have read that only 15 houses sold for £650,000 or more in my constituency in 2015-16, which is 0.9% of the 1,700 houses sold during that period. The average sale price in June 2016 was £140,000. I wish those 15 people well, but they do not deserve a special tax cut to enjoy their new property.
Rather than that extravagant change to inheritance tax and the cuts to corporation tax, the Government should have been on the side of the small businessperson and the self-employed. How extraordinary it is that the Conservative party has broken its promise to the plumber in Penley, the cabbie in Cardiff and the grocer from Grantham. Could one believe that a Conservative Government are charging grocers from Grantham more? How extraordinary! We all know it is a trade-off. Being self-employed means no parental leave, no sick pay, no holiday pay and difficulty getting a mortgage, among other things. The hike in class 4 national insurance contributions has broken the consensus that we in this country have believed in for years. It is a £2 billion tax rise.
I also hope that the Government will consider what the Farmers Union of Wales has to say, because the Budget has a particular consequence for our rural communities. The union’s managing director, Alan Davies, rightly asked this question last week:
“Why is it that tax is being increased for those hard working individuals, some of whom only make a profit just over £8,000, whilst at the same time corporation tax is falling?”
The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Guto Bebb, has already said that he thinks the Government should apologise to everyone in Wales who read the 2015 Conservative party manifesto, and I thank him for his apology to me and others. However, I would rather that the Government reversed their tax hike and scrapped the tax.
We all remember the Tories’ 2012 “omnishambles” Budget—remember the one?—when the Government decided to declare war on caravanners, churches, stately homes and even the humble Cornish pasty. Well, that will seem like a picnic compared with the consequences for the country now. It is high time that the Government listened to the voice of the ordinary self-employed workers, strivers and entrepreneurs in our community. It is high time that the Government listened to those women who have worked so hard right through their life and have contributed so much to society. And it is time that this Government acted in the interest of fairness, listened to our communities—rural, suburban and urban—and recognised that they must now restore fairness by doing a U-turn on this ridiculous tax hike for self-employed people and by giving some decency to the people in this country.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate and to follow Susan Elan Jones. Hers is a fine constituency in north Wales, an area I know particularly well because it abuts my own county of Cheshire. She will know how closely Cheshire MPs work with her and her colleagues in north Wales to benefit the wider economic zone. MPs in Cheshire and north Wales should work together for the betterment of all our constituents. I would like to think that the Budget goes some way towards enabling us to raise tax to invest in infrastructure that benefits our cross-border constituents.
Against a backdrop of global uncertainty, and as we start our negotiations to exit the European Union, the Budget takes forward our plan to prepare Britain for a brighter future. Nine years ago, the UK was one of the economies worst prepared to face the financial crisis; today, it is one of the best prepared. The OBR forecasts that the UK economy will grow by 2% in 2017. That figure has been revised up from the 1.4% forecast in November. The economy will be growing faster than every major economy in Europe, except Germany’s.
Any family could sit around the kitchen table and tell us that we cannot keep on spending more than we bring in; the same holds true for the Government. There is no magic money tree. Britain has debt of nearly £1.7 trillion —almost £62,000 for every household in the country—and we must never forget that, under Labour, £1 in every £4 that was spent by the Government was borrowed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the previous Parliament, the Opposition opposed every single reform made by the then Government, and they have also opposed all the reforms of the current Government. They call our approach austerity; I call it living within one’s means. We have to take the difficult decisions. Judging by the £30 billion black hole in the Opposition’s counter-proposals, however, they have forgotten the mistakes of the past.
While talking about the need to balance the books, the hon. Gentleman made a bizarre analogy comparing the country with a family. When he is sitting at the dinner table, can he raise interest rates, print money and quantitatively ease? His analogy is completely and utterly defunct.
I did not catch the hon. Gentleman’s final word, but I use that analogy because when I was at school we used to have home economics, and we have to make difficult decisions at home. I was merely making the point that we all have difficult decisions to make. That analogy applies not only to families throughout the country, but to the Government. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not feel it is a good analogy. Perhaps I shall wait to hear his speech and comment on it.
I welcome the Chancellor’s steps to return balance to the country’s finances and to continue the Government’s commitment to take the lowest earners out of tax altogether by raising the personal allowance to £11,500. I sat on the Work and Pensions Committee in the previous Parliament, when the Government’s mantra was helping to make work pay. That is the right course of action to take.
I come to a subject that is very close to my heart, and I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on beer. I welcome the relief of £1,000 for pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000, which will benefit 90% of pubs. I also welcome the discretionary fund, which enables local authorities to make awards to businesses in their areas on a case-by-case basis. However, I am somewhat disappointed about the inflationary rise in beer duty, which is now 43% higher than it was a decade ago, 13 times higher than the rate in Germany, and significantly higher than those of our major brewing neighbours in Europe. None the less, the Government do have a proud track record of three reductions in beer duty, a beer duty freeze and the removal of the hated beer duty escalator. Although I welcome the introduction of duty bands to target high alcohol-by-volume white ciders to encourage responsible drinking, it is important to remember that 70% of the drinks bought in pubs are beer.
The current bracket for reduced-rate beer sits at 1.2% to 2.8% ABV. However, current HMRC duty receipts demonstrate that, in the six years since the policy was introduced, such beer represents just 0.15% of the market. I know that the Minister will be aware of the cross-industry campaign to split general beer duty rate into two tiers— 2.8% to 3.5%, and 3.5% to 7.5%—and to reduce the duty rate for 3.5% ABV beers, which have much less alcohol in them than the UK average and are highly drinkable for UK consumers. I hope that we can work together on this matter over the coming month to encourage a broader selection of lower strength beers to become part of the norm in UK drinking culture. I will be encouraging the industry to step up to the plate with lower strength beers that can be drunk and enjoyed in the great British pub.
This Government have a plan to build an economy that works for everyone, and the Budget continues with that plan by building on the foundation of our fundamental economic strength. It makes sure that our economy remains strong so that we can properly fund our public services, it helps ordinary working families to make ends meet, and it makes it clear that Britain is open for business.
It is a pleasure to follow Graham Evans, who highlighted the importance of our community pubs very well. It is also a pleasure to speak in the debate in which my hon. Friend Gareth Snell has made his quite superb maiden speech.
“absolute genius for putting flamboyant labels on empty luggage.”
I am afraid that, with this Budget, we have plenty of empty luggage and no flamboyant labels—even those have now gone.
There was certainly no vision in the Budget for what post-Brexit Britain should look like, and neither was there anything about tackling some of the very fundamental problems that our economy will face over the next few years. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the approach that was taken to the self-employed in this country. There are 4.6 million self-employed people in the UK today. Of course I am completely opposed to those unscrupulous employers who push people into self-employed status to avoid the duties involved in employing them. However, the reality is that there are millions of people who are self-employed by choice. They have the flexibility that self-employment brings, but there has always been a trade-off. Self-employed people do not have the same access as employed people to pensions and our social security system. Having been self-employed for many years, I also know that they do not have absolute certainty over their income—they do not know how much money will come in from week to week.
The Tory answer to that, it appears, is to hammer the self-employed through national insurance contributions—I am talking about the rise in class 4 contributions. That is a breach of a manifesto pledge. I am not a regular visitor to conservatives.com, but I can tell Members that if they get the pdf version of the 2015 manifesto from that website, they will find on page 3, under the headline “While you grow older”, a promise that the Conservatives
This policy is a flagrant breach of that manifesto promise. It is also incredibly short-sighted, because we should be looking at long-term policy solutions to ensure that we can help these 4.6 million people, who take great risks and are great entrepreneurs, to access our social security system and appropriate pensions. How must the self-employed feel about their treatment under this Tory Government? We all know that the Prime Minister likes to read the brief first. She likes to consider her position and then come out with her opinion, as she duly did on the self-employed. And what did she say? That they are “eroding” our tax base. What kind of comment is that towards the millions of self-employed people in this country?
I certainly agreed with the Chancellor’s words about parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications, and with the idea of T-levels. The problem was that as I listened to him speaking, I was reminded of somebody else—someone who promised new university technical colleges and vocational training right across the board. I was struck to go and look up who that person was. What did I discover? It was actually the former Chancellor, Mr Osborne, speaking on “The Andrew Marr Show” in March 2011. I think we can be sceptical about the ability of Tory Chancellors to deliver on vocational training, given that almost the same thing was said six years ago.
We have to look at the overall impact of the Budget. I commend to Ministers a document produced by the Resolution Foundation, appropriately called “Back to the ’80s”. It is a study of what will happen to working age incomes over the next four years as a consequence of Conservative policies. It tells us that those whose incomes are in the lowest quartile will be 5% to 15% worse off in the next four years. But what happens to people in the top quartile? They will be 4% to 5% better off over the next four years.
Although we live in an age of great political uncertainty, some things are still absolutely certain: water still flows downhill by the easiest route; the sun will rise tomorrow; and Tory Governments always make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That is precisely what this Budget does.
The Budget was more about what the Chancellor did not say than what he did. It is incredible that the consequences of us leaving the EU—the biggest cause of uncertainty and the biggest threat to our economic wellbeing in a generation—got no significant mention at all in the Budget. That fact alone is enough to render the Budget a failure, but it was not the only failure. Most Chancellors at least get to see good headlines the next morning, but not so “Spreadsheet Phil”, as the right hon. Gentleman likes to be known. However, the way in which the Prime Minister, her Chancellor, their close allies, ministerial aides and senior sources have been denouncing each other over the weekend—in the most vituperative terms—show just what his own colleagues think of him breaching a manifesto promise in his Budget.
Apart from the considerable entertainment value of all this briefing and counter-briefing, which shows the dysfunction at the heart of this blundering, fractious and divided Government, I find it astonishing that no one in the entire Cabinet spotted the howling, broken election promise at the heart of the Budget when the Chancellor briefed them on his plans. They have all been whinging to the newspapers that the Chancellor did not flag it up, but they all stood on a manifesto that promised no increase in income tax, national insurance contributions or VAT for the entire five years of this Parliament. They all repeated that ad nauseam during the election campaign, yet none of them noticed. I would not have expected that they had all forgotten about it, but apparently they all managed to put it right out of their minds. It shows just how cynical this Tory Government really are that the entire Cabinet failed to remember their main election tax promise within two years of winning that election. Some 5,400 people in my constituency, some of whom earn less than £17,000, will now have to pay more, and not all of them are self-employed by choice.
I will say a little bit about education because there are real challenges in my constituency. Schools are facing a real squeeze. There are some figures that the Secretary of State did not give us in her opening remarks. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, thanks to the Lib Dem-Tory coalition Government and the current Tory Government, spending per pupil fell by 14% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16, and is due to fall by a further 6.5% between 2015-16 and 2019-20. That is before the new schools funding formula hits many schools with more cuts. In the Liverpool part of my constituency, another £3.6 million will be lost as a result. According to the National Union of Teachers, there will, on average, be a further 10% funding cut by 2020 for schools in my constituency. That is threatening the future of many schools.
A letter I have received from the head and governing body of St Francis Xavier’s College in my constituency spells out the reality of the financial pressures it is under. It cites increases in the salary bill because of unfunded public sector pay awards; higher pensions and higher national insurance contributions; the removal of the education support grant in September this year; the apprenticeship levy, which is payable from April; and losses in per capita sixth-form funding. As a consequence, the college has reduced its leadership team and their salaries and lost 13 staff to voluntary severance, and it has six teaching posts unfilled. It says:
“We are extremely concerned about the potential impact of the forthcoming national funding formula. The impact of this is likely to make it impossible that the college can remain financially stable and this will have a detrimental effect upon the educational provision for pupils in a city which has amongst the highest levels of deprivation in the UK”.
This is a popular, over-subscribed school. I have written to the Secretary of State about the issue, but I have yet to receive a reply. I can assure her that SFX is not the only school in my constituency with these problems.
This situation is a disaster for our schools, but the Budget has made it worse, when it could have made it better. In divisive and unfair measures, the Government have set aside £1 billion to fund new free schools and the Prime Minister’s back-to-the-1950s grammar schools vanity project. They have also agreed to pay school transport costs for poorer pupils, but only those who attend selective schools. Young people who live in Halewood, in my constituency, who can no longer study for academic A-levels without leaving the borough are to get no such help, even though they are from some of the most deprived families in the country, and even though education could help to give them better life chances.
When I asked the Minister responsible for the school system, Lord Nash, what assistance the Government could offer to ensure that Halewood kids can get transport to study A-levels, he said in a recent letter:
“It would be unfair to offer free transport to young people in one area of the Country and not to others.”
Quite, but that is precisely what the Chancellor has just done in his Budget—although only if pupils are attending a divisive selective grammar school. How typically Tory. The Chancellor has offered Halewood kids who want to study A-levels precisely nothing, because he is spending all the money on recreating the Prime Minister’s 1950s grammar school myth.
That is why Labour, in office, banned grammars, put money into rebuilding all our schools, doubled funding per pupil, and employed 36,000 more teachers and 250,000 teaching assistants. After seven years of the Lib Dem-Tories and the Tories, our schools are in crisis again, with class sizes going up, GCSE pass rates going down and teachers fleeing the profession. This Budget has done nothing to stop the rot; instead, it has set about doing even more damage and causing even more division.
I want to focus on the need to boost skills and jobs in our country, especially in manufacturing, following last week’s Budget. That is especially pertinent as we begin the process of leaving the EU.
It is unsurprising that, in a constituency-wide Brexit listening exercise I conducted, Nissan, which is based in my constituency, dominated, especially in terms of trade, investment, jobs and skills. Last week’s Budget was the perfect opportunity for the Chancellor to lay the foundations for strong economic growth that is resilient to any storms we may weather during the EU negotiations, but, sadly, we were left wanting. The announcements we did get on skills did not go far enough, and they must be placed in the context of the Government’s wider approach to education and skills.
Since 2010, we have seen the further education budget cut by 14% in real terms. That is a cash reduction from £3.18 billion in 2010-11 to £2.94 billion in 2015-16. That is compounded by the fact that the non-apprenticeship adult skills budget has been depleted by 54%. However, that negligent approach by the Government has not scuppered the innovative work by great employers in my constituency. Only last Friday, I was honoured to open Unipres’s new training academy, which will help to boost the skills of our local workforce by offering much-needed apprenticeship opportunities in engineering and manufacturing. It goes without saying that manufacturing is symbiotic with the north-east. We are the country’s makers and builders—I am pleased that Stoke colleagues are not here to shout me down—due in part to the innate talents of the people in our region and the skills we inherently have within us to manufacture with high quality and high productivity.
I like to call my constituency the manufacturing hub of our region, perhaps the country, with the likes of Nissan, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Unipres, Rayovac and Gestamp, to name but a few, all based there. The manufacturing presence in our region will only be strengthened with the creation of the IAMP—International Advanced Manufacturing Park—which will be based not only in my constituency but that of my neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr Hepburn. However, the success of the IAMP and manufacturers in my constituency—from the large, some of which I have mentioned, right down to small and medium-sized enterprises such as AdFab Ltd, Washington Components, and PFF Packaging—depend on the Government strengthening their approach to skills and jobs. This is especially important with Brexit on the horizon.
There is one way in which Ministers could easily help to bolster our manufacturing, not only in the north-east, but across the country—through catapults. I am not talking about the ancient war machines but instead
“a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth.”
A number of catapults have been started across the country, yet there seem to be none for materials. This means there is no support for the innovation and development of materials such as steel, ceramics, glass and plastics, all of which are crucial to the dominant industry in Sunderland—the automotive sector. If we were to see a catapult for materials like the industry-supported proposal by the Materials Processing Institute in Redcar that received cross-party endorsement in January from the all-party parliamentary group on steel, this could have a positive impact on the whole of the manufacturing industry. However, it would especially help the Nissan supply chain, which Nissan has said needs re-powering.
I appreciate my hon. Friend mentioning the fantastic institute in my constituency. Does she share my concern at a story on WalesOnline last week saying that Swansea is predicted to receive £80 million for a steel science centre that would almost directly duplicate the work that is happening at the MPI in Redcar and could then impact on the Nissan supply chain that she mentions?
I do not want to take anything away from Wales, especially with colleagues from Wales in the Chamber, but duplication does not make any sense, especially when there is so little funding around, and we definitely do not want to take any support away from Nissan. I am pleased that my hon. Friend made that point.
Currently, only a minority of parts used to build a Nissan car are made here in the UK, through a 38,000-strong supply chain workforce across the UK, with 27,000 of those jobs based in the north-east.
Yes—I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman makes that point. Electric battery technology is going from strength to strength. I was very pleased to see that there was an announcement on electric vehicles and battery technology in the Budget.
However, we see a predicament looming on the horizon as we begin to leave the EU—WTO tariffs. Ministers have given countless reassurances that we will strike a deal with the EU that does not mean we have to fall back on the 10% WTO tariffs. Yet only this weekend this was blown out of the water when a leaked document showed the Prime Minister’s willingness to fall back on those terms, regardless of the economic impact they may have. That was then reiterated by the Foreign Secretary on TV, also over the weekend. This would be catastrophic not only for the country but for my constituency and the businesses there. In the case of Nissan, falling back on to WTO tariffs and crashing out of the customs union would cause significant delays on products coming into the country that they rely on.
Another issue is that overseas parts currently used to build Nissan cars would have to be reduced significantly to meet the WTO rules of origin. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that cars need to have 50% local content to meet the rules of origin and be classed as British-made, and that could prove a major problem for Nissan. This is where the materials catapult comes into play. Not only would it reinvigorate the supply chain with innovation, especially in skills and jobs, but it could act as a way to mitigate the issues arising from the potential impact of WTO tariffs on manufacturing. I cannot make this point strongly enough the House: this catapult could also mean potential jobs growth. If we take the case of reducing overseas content in Nissan cars, it could significantly boost the UK supply chain and create tens of thousands of new UK jobs, which could seriously transform the manufacturing sector in the UK. Catapults could help in part to achieve the resilience I have talked about, and I hope the Government will listen and look again at the potential of a materials catapult.
I want to put this Budget into context for my constituents. We have a Government who have borrowed more in seven years than the last Labour Government did in 13 years. The deficit that we were told would be gone is still there. The country is just about to embark on the most important negotiations since the end of the second world war, but the Chancellor barely mentioned Brexit. The disabled who are desperately trying to gain employment are to have their incomes cut by close to a third next month. Children who are unlucky enough to be the third child in a struggling family will suffer as the withdrawal of child tax credit pushes another 600,000 children into poverty. The truth is that many families are just not managing, and all they have to look forward to is years of austerity stretching far into the 2020s.
But it is all okay: we do not need to worry—because inheritance tax is to be reduced. I wonder whether the Chancellor knows how many people in my constituency are likely to benefit from a cut in inheritance tax. I have checked: last year it would have been six people, while this year it is eight—not even into double figures. It is obscene to take from the disabled and from those struggling to make ends meet to give to the richest households in the land.
I will turn to some of the announcements made on Budget day. The first concerns the increase in national insurance for the self-employed. The changes to national insurance contributions for the self-employed, taken alongside the cut in corporation tax, tell my constituents all they need to know about this Government: increased costs for small business, and reduced costs for big business. There are over 4,000 self-employed people in my constituency, and they will all be worse off despite the fact that the 2015 Conservative manifesto promised that national insurance contributions would not be increased. There can be no justification for any of this. If the Government are serious about tackling the deficit, why are they cutting taxes for the richest? By 2022, cuts to the banking levy, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and corporation tax will have cost the taxpayer another £70 billion. I repeat: it is obscene.
The second point relates to the whole issue of social care. In light of the cost of tax cuts, no wonder there is no money for adequate social care. Depriving old people of the care they need is causing widespread misery and placing additional pressure on an already overstretched NHS. The Chancellor could have announced measures to fully fund social care and help to restore funding for local government; instead, he offered only £2 billion over the next three years. The Government are giving the care sector only half of what it actually needs, and of course we must all remember that the Government have cut £4.2 billion from social care budgets since 2010. My constituents might not have been aware of the figures, but they know what they see with their own eyes. They understand that the Government take with two hands and give back with one, and quite frankly, they are not impressed.
My third and final point is in connection with the Government’s proposal to spend millions of pounds creating new grammar schools to the detriment of the schools that already exist. Under the new school funding formula, funding is set to be cut in Burnley and Padiham by over £400 per pupil. So much for a Government who say they want all children to have a good education. In Burnley, we are already seeing increased class sizes, subjects being dropped from the curriculum, pupils with special educational needs and disabilities losing vital support and teacher and school staff vacancies being left unfilled or the posts cut altogether. The introduction of grammar schools will not help existing schools in Burnley, nor will it do anything for social mobility. In spite of the Prime Minister’s grand promises, this Budget and this Government have once again failed to deliver for my constituents.
There is much that I could say about last week’s Budget, but given the time constraints I will limit my remarks to the specific topic of today’s debate, education and skills.
In recent weeks there have been protests in my constituency, as there have been across the country, against cuts to school budgets. Parents have taken to the streets, concerned about fewer teachers and support staff, reduced curriculums and fewer opportunities for their children. So what good news did last week’s Budget contain for those concerned mums and dads? The answer is, very little. Ministers ramped up their grammar school rhetoric and made a lot of noise about being on the side of aspiration, and they hoped no one would notice that they have no real solutions for the schools that are struggling most.
The Government’s education policy is nothing more than an aspirational mirage, with £320 million allocated for up to 140 new free schools, 30 of which will be open by September 2020, some of which could be grammars. That sum of £320 million may sound like a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things it is not. In Lewisham, Building Schools for the Future, under which nine secondary schools and two special schools were rebuilt, was a £285 million programme. That was in just one borough in one city.
Is the hon. Lady aware that there are possibilities for university technical colleges within the budget allocation for free schools? That will enable a constituency such as mine to go ahead with a proposed new health UTC, which will help a huge number of young people to work in the NHS in future. Does she think that is constructive?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I am not sure whether he was in the Chamber earlier for the speech by the former shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend Lucy Powell. She pointed out that some of the evidence on UTCs is dubious at best.
As I pointed out, the Building Schools for the Future budget in Lewisham was £285 million to rebuild 11 schools. The budget for grammar schools for the whole country is £320 million. The revolution in education that the Government speak about is a chimera. They want to build the wrong schools in the wrong places, and they have the wrong priorities.
I do not think a penny of extra money should be spent on new grammar schools. I have read the research showing that there is no aggregate improvement in outcomes in areas that operate selection, and I have seen the impact of selection in my own family. My own mum, as bright and capable as anyone in this Chamber, was told when she was 11 that she was not good enough, that she was a slow learner and that she was not academic. She believes that to this day.
I strongly and fundamentally believe in our comprehensive system. We should teach children of different backgrounds and different faiths, with different abilities, in the same schools—we can stream in secondaries, yes, but we must ensure that young people get to mix with others who are not exactly the same as them. The truth is that the Government are not interested in that. They want to play politics instead of addressing real problems. It does not matter what they say about paying for transport to grammars or fiddling with entrance exams, their proposals will cream off the lucky few at the expense of the majority.
To rub salt into the wound, the Government are simply failing to address the problems in some of the country’s worst schools, and they will exacerbate them with their new funding formula. They are still pursuing an academy strategy that is slowly falling apart. Lewisham has the worst-performing secondary schools of any borough in London, and the academies in my constituency are struggling. They have not delivered the soaring GCSE results that were promised, and they have a mixed record on discipline. That is not the worst of it, though. At Sedgehill school, staff and pupils have been left in a permanent state of limbo. An academy order has been issued following the imposition of an interim executive board, but no academy sponsor seems interested in taking the school on. This has been dragging on for more than two years.
What is the Government’s answer for schools like Sedgehill? What is their answer to the parents who ask me whether their school is one of the many so-called orphaned or untouchable schools they read about in the papers, for which academy sponsors cannot be found? It is an absolute disgrace. If an academy sponsor cannot be identified, revoke the academy order and put in place a tailored package of support for the school. Focus on what is going on inside the classroom, not on the sign outside the school gate. Do not blame the local authorities, either. Councils have been emasculated by central Government in recent years and stripped of resources, leading to the loss of school improvement services. They have been stripped of the ability to open new schools of their choosing and stripped of any real power to sort things out when they go wrong.
I am fed up with listening to Ministers talk about grammar schools when they have no answer for schools like Sedgehill. I do not want teachers to be asking me why the parent teacher association is raising money for photocopier paper rather than for the luxuries it used to raise money for. I do not see how anything in the Budget, or anything that the Government are doing in education, will equip all children with the skills, knowledge and confidence that they need to succeed in the increasingly competitive, complex and fast-moving world we now live in.
First, Mr Speaker, let me give you an apology for missing Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions earlier today. I was suitably admonished by you and by people at home.
I want to focus on a couple of issues: the Chancellor’s assault on the Scottish whisky industry and the ill thought out increases in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Let me declare an interest as the treasurer for the all-party group on Scotch whisky—a position that has offered me the opportunity to establish a close working relationship with this vital industry, which is very local to West Dunbartonshire.
As I am the Member for West Dunbartonshire—a constituency that is home to two well-known distilleries, Auchentoshan and Loch Lomond, and that has seen massive investment over recent months in a new bottling plant by Chivas Regal—the House will understand why I have strong reservations about the impact of the Government’s decision to increase excise duty on spirits by 3.9%. That money grab has been described by Loch Lomond distillery as a
“spectacularly poor decision by the chancellor” and by the Scotch Whisky Association as a “major blow” to the industry which will undermine the progress that the industry has made in recent years. I therefore urge the Chancellor to use the opportunity to carry out an urgent review of the UK’s alcohol taxation system to give the industry—described by the Prime Minister only a week and a half ago as
“a truly great Scottish and British industry” producing “the world’s pre-eminent spirit”—the support it requires to remain competitive in this vital global market.
I turn from the ill thought out increase in excise duty to the potentially disastrous impact on the self-employed of the increase in class 4 national insurance contributions by nearly 11% over the next two years. In my constituency, the local community and economy are built on a strong foundation of small businesses, and I have serious concerns—similar concerns have been expressed by many Members in the House—about the long-term impact and pressure of these increases on small businesses.
In a briefing that it sent to my office, the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland voiced its concerns about the proposed policy and stated:
“The risk that the self-employed face makes them fundamentally different to employees. This is why the proposed National Insurance tax grab on this group is an absolute kick in the teeth, just at a time when we need to create more entrepreneurs, not fewer.”
The fact that Members on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s own Benches do not support this policy—we hear them in the Lobby all the time—sends a strong message to the Chancellor and the Treasury that the business community must be understood and consulted before any drastic changes are made. There is still time for the Chancellor to see sense and give small businesses the respect and support they deserve. To fail to do so would be a dereliction of duty and a show of no confidence in those who ensure that the economy is built on a strong base.
Finally, the utter failure in the Budget to even mention the WASPI women shows that the Treasury has failed to grasp the reality facing women born in the 1950s: poverty, destitution and a political state unwilling—not unable, but unwilling—to offer them equality in the 21st century.
As the Scottish National party’s spokesperson on business, energy and industrial strategy, may I too admonish my hon. Friend Martin Docherty-Hughes for missing Business questions this morning? Nevertheless, I agree wholeheartedly with what he says on whisky duty, national insurance and WASPI women. I will come on to talk about national insurance contributions in a moment.
The Budget was dressed up as something a little bit different and a little bit bland. It really was bland, but parts of it did not ring true. The Chancellor seemed to think he could demonstrate that Tory austerity has not been felt most keenly by those who do not have the means to bear it. That may be true if we look at it in a very narrow sense—the top 10% of earners, when all things are taken into consideration, have borne a slightly greater share—but the lowest three deciles have borne a similar percentage decline in their income as a result of the Government’s policies. It may be easy to say that those in the top decile have taken the greatest hit, but the reality is that a 1% or 2% fall in income will mean considerably more to those in the bottom three deciles than it will for those in the top 10%.
The Chancellor said in his Budget speech:
“As a result of the changes we have made since 2010, the top 1% of income tax payers now pay 27% of all income tax”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 813.]
He wears that as a badge of pride, but that is not an indication of a fair society. It is the very opposite and it demonstrates that we live in an incredibly unfair society where 27% of income tax is being paid by 1% of the population. That is because they earn, unjustifiably, more than the rest of the population. That is not a badge of honour; that should be a badge of shame for this Government.
We have heard talk about how the Government want to use technical education and reforms in the Budget to put entrepreneurship and technical skills at the heart of the British economy, yet the single key announcement in the Budget was the change to national insurance contributions for the self-employed. They are the entrepreneurs. They are the folks with the technical skills we need in our economy. As we have heard from Member after Member today, those people do not enjoy the same benefits and protections enjoyed by those of us who are employed. That is why they deserve a differential in terms of their national insurance contributions. To dress this up as anything other than a naked tax grab is entirely disingenuous. This will not help our economy and it is coming at precisely the worst time. It must not just be stopped, but cancelled entirely.
The most disappointing aspect of the Budget for me was the utter silence on the energy challenges we as a country face. Next to nothing was said on renewables. There was nothing on how we decarbonise our economy. There was nothing on how we tap the massive potential in Scotland, particularly in our rural communities. There was nothing on how we can get contracts for difference for our island communities or how we tap the massive potential of our tidal streams. We heard nothing on the implementation of carbon capture and storage, which we will need if we are going to be able to afford, in both a financial and technical sense, to meet the carbon budgets we as a Parliament agreed.
I will not give way, as others still wish to speak.
The privatisation of the Green Investment Bank is pushing ahead at precisely the wrong time. As part of this, I hope that the Government will reflect on the challenges they face and cancel that sale.
Oil and gas has raised its head as an issue, given the changing dynamic in Scottish political debate. In 2014, the then Prime Minister promised Scotland a £200 billion oil bonanza if we voted no. He told us that the industry relied on the broad shoulders of this United Kingdom. Well, those shoulders have barely shrugged in defence of the 65,000 people, many of them in my constituency, who have lost their jobs while the Government have been asleep at the wheel.
I and my party will take no lectures from folks over there on the oil and gas industry. We have seen an absolute dereliction of duty; the Government have been asleep at the wheel. This Budget provided an opportunity to right that wrong, but what did the Government do? Did they come forward with the exploration incentives that the industry needs? No, they did not. They simply reheated a previous commitment from the last Budget and said that they would set up a discussion group. Frankly, that is not good enough. When people are losing their jobs, it is not enough to sit down and have a chat over a cup of tea. An independent Scotland would undoubtedly have acted; it would have acted swiftly and decisively to save these people’s jobs.
At the heart of all the great Budgets and all the great policy statements is a vision backed by policy. The theme of today’s Budget debate is education. We heard the Secretary of State speak at great length about one of the main problems that has beset every education system in our country for decades: the link between social background and educational attainment. It is one thing to talk about it, but another to address it with policies that will work. For most of us, seeing the Government return to the failed policies of the past to try to address that is a great mistake.
The idea that the issue of social background and educational attainment can be solved by the return of grammar schools—they might have benefited a few, but did so at the vast expense of the majority of young people in an area—is totally and utterly unacceptable. Indeed, the Government have had problems with their own Back Benchers in putting forward that policy. I say to the Government that, yes, we all agree with tackling the link between educational attainment and social background, but not by returning to selective education—essentially to the 11-plus.
It is clear that Education Ministers went to the Treasury —I see on the Government Front Bench the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—and said that the National Audit Office was predicting a £3 billion or 8% real-terms cut in the Department’s budget by 2020. That is not defensible. Conservative Members will not have on their leaflets all the cuts that will be made to the schools in their constituencies; they will say, “Don’t worry, I will write to the Minister about this”, as though it somehow happens without the Government’s decision. The Department for Education has failed in its attempt to get the Treasury to stump up more money to pay for our schools. As a consequence, there will be a reduction in funding for virtually every school in the country, and large numbers of teachers will be made redundant or not employed in future. That is the reality of the Government’s policy on education.
My own Gedling constituency will see cuts of £5.6 million in real terms by 2020—the equivalent of 139 teachers. In Nottinghamshire, it amounts to nearly £40 million-worth of cuts. Local Conservative candidates at elections somehow pretend that it has nothing to do with them and object when we point out that it is their own Government who are doing it.
We face a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, too. At the heart of any policy whose aim is to raise attainment in some of our most difficult schools are good teaching and good head teachers: they are absolutely fundamental. Over the last few years, until fairly recently, every policy has recognised the need for such provision and has tried to ensure that it happens. However, teacher recruitment and retention are now under threat. Some schools are unable to recruit staff to teach certain specialist subjects, and some are even reflecting on whether they have enough staff to enable them to deliver a full curriculum over a full number of school days.
Let me say something to the Minister about T-levels. Every Government for decades have called for parity of esteem between academic and vocational education. The question that the present Government need to answer is this: how will the T-level policy initiative differ from all the other policy initiatives that have gone before? There has been talk about quality work experience and parity of esteem, but there is a problem that the Government have not addressed and we all need to address. It is a cultural problem: vocational education is not seen as having parity with academic education. When the Government decide what constitutes a good school, they do not say, “This is a good school because of the number of people it gets into high-quality vocational education post-16.” They judge that school on the basis of academic results. If we are judging our schools purely on the basis of academic achievement, is it any wonder that vocational education is sometimes regarded as second rate when it should not be?
I believe that there should be a national crusade. We need to make clear that there is a cultural problem with vocational education, and that we must change attitudes to it if we are ever to deliver the high quality that we need. There are skills shortages in various industries throughout the country—in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, in Wales and in England. The Government must explain how what they are proposing will differ from many of the sound and well-meaning policy objectives that we have seen before.
A few weeks ago I joined a Faversham care worker, Kim, on her rounds. When I joined her at 7.30 in the morning, she had already started washing her first client. That lovely lady needed Kim’s help to get up, get washed and dressed, and have breakfast. So many of us take such things for granted, but there is a time in life when people need help, especially if they suffer from disabilities, as she did.
I spent that morning with Kim because I wanted to see for myself the challenges presented by social care. In my constituency, we have an acute shortage of domiciliary care. Care agencies tell me that they simply cannot recruit enough staff to meet the demand—at least, not at the rates that they can pay. Age UK Faversham tells me that people are going without care who desperately need it, and the local hospitals tell me that at any time about a third of their patients would be better cared for somewhere else.
Kent County Council has made huge efforts to protect frontline care while efficiencies have been achieved, but in my part of Kent it seems that the care system is only just managing, and there are similar stories across the country. That is why, before the Budget, I asked the Chancellor if he could find extra money for social care. I know that I was one of many, and I am grateful that we have been heard. The Budget will give social care £2 billion more over the next three years, of which £l billion will be available in 2017-18. For Kent that means an extra £26 million this year, more than double what it is expecting to raise through the social care precept. That will make a real difference. Also welcome are the £100 million to fund more GPs at A&E departments—which, as we know, are a hospital pressure point—and the £300 million of extra capital funding for sustainability and transformation plans.
There is no escaping the fact—about which the OBR is very clear—that the need for health and social care will rise, and costs will rise with it. The number of over-85s is set to double in the next 15 years, and there are some worrying trends among much younger people—for instance, people in their 60s—who are living with complex life- limiting conditions. The money to care for those people has to come from somewhere, but it should not come from adding to the debt to be paid off by future generations, or from the tax changes that have been proposed by some Opposition Members, which have not been thought through and could result in reduced tax revenue to pay for the costs of care.
The best way to pay for the increasing costs of care is to have a strong and growing economy. I welcome the fact that, with its proposals for investment in infrastructure, skills and education, the Budget has boosting productivity at its core. However, we also need to adapt to changes in the nature of work that are already happening. As the Secretary of State said earlier, jobs are changing fast. About 60% of the jobs that today’s schoolchildren will do have not even been invented yet. More people are choosing to be self-employed or finding work in the gig economy. More businesses are moving online. The tax system needs to respond.
I fully recognise the extra risks and insecurities for the self-employed and entrepreneurs—I am married to one—and I hope that the Taylor report that is due in the autumn will address some of the insecurities of modern work, but there is an enormous imbalance between the contributions made by people in employment and those made by the self-employed, particularly when one adds in national insurance contributions paid by employers. Many business models have developed simply to take advantage of that tax differential and, in the process, the rapid rise in self-employment is eroding the tax base. That simply has to be addressed. We will all get old and may need care one day, so we all need to contribute to paying for that.
I look forward to the planned Green Paper on future social care funding. We need a funding system that means providers of care will invest in facilities and especially in the workforce, because the people who provide care are at the heart of this. It was such a privilege to spend time with Kim in Faversham and to see what she did for the people she cares for. We must ensure that no one has to worry whether they will get the care that they need, when they need it.
Last week, the Chancellor delivered his Budget on International Women’s Day, a day when women, and men, across the world celebrated women and their contribution to society, and highlighted how important it is to have an inclusive, gender-balanced workplace. I cannot think of a better day for the Chancellor to show how much we value the contribution that women make to the economy. Instead, he used his Budget to continue the hard Tory austerity policies that disproportionately affect women, men and their families across the country.
We know that women are affected twice as hard by this Government’s dangerous obsession with austerity. It is clear that Tory austerity is gendered because cuts to public sector jobs and an increase in temporary and zero-hours contracts affect women the most. Women make up the majority of workers living in poverty, with many juggling two or three low-paid, part-time jobs as they try to make ends meet. Where is the help that they so desperately need to scramble from just about managing to being able to provide for their families without the fear and stress of ever-shrinking household budgets?
The Chancellor started his speech by talking about preparing for a “brighter future”, but I have to ask him and his colleagues: in what parallel universe is the future bright for the 300,000 children who will be forced into poverty as a result of his refusal and that of his colleagues to stop the cuts to the work allowance? That is despite a report from the Resolution Foundation only this month warning that the Tory Government’s tax and social security policies would
“drive the biggest rise in inequality” since Thatcher. I grew up in a single-mother family under Thatcher and it strikes me that, sadly, not much has changed.
It is both sad and ironic that, on the same page of the Budget document, the Government give money to tackle domestic abuse—a welcome move—yet refuse to take action on the punitive two-child limit and to scrap the repugnant rape clause. As the Chancellor spoke about this “brighter future”, hundreds of WASPI campaigners, including women from my Livingston constituency, protested outside Parliament—and still he failed resolutely to outline a single measure to tackle state pension inequality. Those women worked hard for their bright future, and this Tory Government are extinguishing it.
The cuts that have been announced will mean that Scotland’s day-to-day budget will be a massive £1 billion worse off. By 2020, Scotland will be £2.5 billion worse off in real terms. The IFS forecasts that austerity could last until the middle of the next decade, meaning that Scottish households and public services could ultimately face 15 years of UK Government austerity.
A separate report from the IFS this month projected that child poverty would increase to 30% by 2021-22, and said that this is
“entirely explained by the direct impact of tax and benefit reforms”.
Let us not forget that only a few months after the Tory Government came to power, they scrapped child poverty targets, and that came just before child tax credit cuts. What a shameful way to start their time in government. This Government and this Chancellor had a chance to reverse that, and he did nothing.
I ask the Government to tell us why they brought forward nothing to reverse the punitive cuts that will hit mid-low income families? Why has the Chancellor done literally nothing to protect millions of children from the prospect of poverty? The Resolution Foundation found that the poorest quarter of working-age households will be between about 5% and 15% worse off, and says that this
“is the worst period of household income growth for the poorest half of households since records began in the mid-1960s”— and that is before the swingeing cuts that are due to hit, and before Brexit.
The Chancellor told us that his Budget
“continues the task of getting Britain back to living within its means.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 622, c. 809.]
I am sure that there are thousands of families across the country who would love to have the means within which to live, but they do not, and they are simply struggling, every day, because of the punitive measures of this Government.
What would the Chancellor tell lone parents on universal credit, who will on average lose £2,380 a year? The End Child Poverty coalition has said:
“The impact of the benefit freeze, in the context of rapid price rises, has a dramatic effect on family incomes. Families on a low income simply cannot afford to pay the increased prices” that will result from this Government’s policies.
A hard Tory Brexit remains the major threat to Scotland and our economy. Brexiteers will claim that revised figures on debt, GDP and borrowing show that the negative effect of Brexit has been exaggerated, but it has not happened yet. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that there has been no structural improvement in the public finances and forecasts for the next five years remain virtually unchanged. The impact of a hard Brexit is yet to be felt.
Amidst the utter chaos of a hard Tory Brexit, the change for entrepreneurs and the self-employed is going to be devastating. The SNP wholeheartedly believes in flexible labour markets, but that flexibility must be guarded against vulnerability. Some self-employed workers in the UK, particularly those on low incomes, do not enjoy the same guarantees as other people, as we have heard.
This Budget was an opportunity to do the right thing to support women and low- income families, to boost business and to put an end to austerity, yet it is nothing more than an opportunity lost by this Government. This Government might see a “bright future”, but it looks more to me like the dark clouds of a perfect storm for the rest of us. Winter is coming, and Scotland is headed in a different direction—it will, I think, be a new dawn for us.
Education has a key role to play in breaking cycles of poverty, but we know, too, that poverty has a profound impact on a child’s ability to make the most of any educational opportunity available. Yet this Budget did nothing to tackle child poverty, which stands at about 4 million in this country—that is a shameful figure, and it is set to rise.
According to the Child Poverty Action Group, by the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be on average nine months behind children from wealthier backgrounds. Department for Education statistics show that by the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are almost three terms behind children from more affluent families. By 14, the gap grows to over five terms, and by 16, children receiving free school meals achieve on average 1.7 grades lower at GCSE.
We know, too, that the early years are crucial for child development. Maintained nursery schools do an important job for children in their early years and many are struggling financially, yet the Chancellor chose to find £320 million for 140 new free schools. I strongly question his sense of priorities. Some 65% of maintained nursery schools are in the most deprived areas in the UK, and 97% of them are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted. No other part of the education sector can match that, so their value cannot be in doubt.
Ganneys Meadow nursery school in my constituency has received outstanding judgments in its last three Ofsted reports, and it provides a vital service to families in the local community. Around 20% of the children there have special educational needs or a disability, including autism, epilepsy or mobility problems. The families of a number of the children are on low incomes, and some of the children might be quite vulnerable. The school gives those children the very best start in life, yet despite that service, based on the specialist expertise of highly qualified, trained teaching staff, it is funded at the same rate as all childcare providers. Local authorities can top up that funding, but we all know that they have had their budgets severely cut by central Government.
The Government have announced extra funding for nursery schools but, in practice, schools such as Ganneys Meadow will see their overall income rise by only a very small amount, and they will remain financially squeezed. If the Government are really serious about improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children in our society, they should back the maintained nursery schools and ensure that they get the funding that they need to secure their future. At secondary school level, funding per pupil in my constituency is expected to fall by 10% between 2013 and 2019, which will mean a loss of £309 per pupil in cash terms between 2015 and 2019. That will inevitably be to the detriment of pupils’ education and staff morale, and it is wholly unacceptable.
The arts in education are particularly at risk at the moment. Uptake of creative subjects at secondary level fell by 14% overall between 2010 and 2015, and the Government have so far failed to respond to the consultation on the future of the English baccalaureate, which included a consideration of the place of arts subjects in the core curriculum. A survey of teachers by The Guardian in January found that 9% of respondents reported that either art, music or drama was no longer offered at their school. About 20% said that one or more of those subjects had been given reduced timetable space. Yet studies here and in the United States have shown that students from low-income families who have the opportunity to engage in the arts at school are significantly more likely to go on to get a degree and are also more employable overall, so these cuts to school funding really are damaging the prospects of our young people.
There are also real issues around adult literacy and numeracy. The latest Government studies, published in 2011, found that nearly 15% of 16 to 65-year-olds were functionally illiterate and that 23% of the people surveyed lacked basic numeracy skills. This is a real crisis, and the Government should tackle it as a matter of urgency, for the sake of not only the individuals involved but their families. When we educate the mother or the father, we educate the child. We need real investment in adult education and lifelong learning. The Chancellor announced £40 million in funding for 2018-19 to test different approaches to helping people to retrain and upskill throughout their working lives, but there have been cuts of more than £1 billion in the sector since 2010. I also question the need for pilots. As a former teacher in adult education schools and someone who has close knowledge of the work of the British Education Research Association, I can assure the Government that there is plenty of expertise out there that they could tap into to put together a really robust programme of adult education and lifelong learning.
I also urge the Government to think beyond retraining and upskilling. Those are important in providing vital training opportunities to help people to move on in their employment, but it is important to provide education for education’s sake. On TV, we see the huge popularity of programmes such as “The Great British Bake Off”, “The Great Pottery Throw Down” and “The Big Painting Challenge”. It is clear that there is a real interest in discovering arts and skills areas that might have nothing to do with employability, but everything to do with creativity and learning. I join my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy in his call for the reintroduction of night schools. They are inexpensive places where people can learn and socialise, and they can help people to grow in confidence and make friends. They also provide an effective way of tackling social isolation. They can be quite transforming for individuals and communities, and I believe that they have a particularly important offer in our ageing society.
“to build a stronger economy and a fairer society” in which
“every child has the knowledge and the skills they need to thrive”.
If the Government are sincere in that, they should make it a priority to fund early years education. They should also be ambitious in their plans for lifelong learning and make a real priority of tackling child poverty so that children are healthy and able to make the most of the educational opportunities on offer.
Order. As I call Gill Furniss, I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will join me in wishing her a happy birthday.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This Budget is, at its heart, deeply unfair. It is full of broken promises and missed opportunities. I am a Sheffield MP. I love Sheffield. I grew up in Sheffield. I am extremely proud to represent its people in this place and that means standing up for them. Sheffield City Council has faced cuts every year for seven years, now totalling £352 million, and it will have to find another £40 million next year to balance its budget. Sheffield is a fantastic city with a strong industrial base. It is where stainless steel was invented, and I must put it on the record that Sheffield definitely drove the industrial revolution, no matter what others have said today. However, wages have fallen dramatically. In fact, shamefully, it was recently found that Sheffield is the low-pay capital of the UK. There is little in this Budget to help that.
The self-employed are the engine drivers of entrepreneurship, with many working at the cutting edge of technology. Self-employment in Sheffield has increased by 10% in recent years, showing our city’s entrepreneurial character. However, real wages among the self-employed have fallen faster than those of employees. For my constituents, the Chancellor’s £2 billion broken promise on NICs will have a serious effect on their livelihood. As I said, unfairness is at the heart of the Budget, which hits low and middle earners hardest, hurting working people in Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. While increasing taxes for the most vulnerable in our society, and simultaneously choosing to do nothing about working standards for the self-employed, the Chancellor decided to cut taxes for the richest. Policy measures introduced by this Government since 2010 will result in over £70 billion in tax giveaways to big businesses and the super-rich over the next five years. Much has already been said about the contentious business rates revaluation, and pubs in my constituency will feel the pain of increased rates despite the headline-grabbing one-year-only discount. The British Beer and Pub Association forecasts that increases on beer duty will result in 4,000 job losses and more pub closures.
We know what to expect from this Government by now—they kick the can down the road—so the Chancellor’s speech naturally contained no mention of the industrial strategy, nothing for the struggling steel sector, and no mention of climate change. Social care is in a state of emergency due to cuts to local council budgets, with over 1 million vulnerable elderly people not receiving the care they need. The extra £2 billion for adult social care does not make up for the £4.6 billion in cuts over the last Parliament and, believe me, councils in the north are not getting the same Surrey sweetheart deal on social care. The Chancellor had the opportunity last Wednesday to properly address the funding crisis, but he did not take it. He announced no money to deal with hospitals despite the £5 billion black hole in NHS maintenance. There are not enough GPs in the NHS, and cuts to nurses’ bursaries have led to a reduction in applications for nursing courses. A&Es are in crisis, and waiting lists are soaring. Mr Speaker, forgive me if I feel that this is all too little, too late.
Ensuring a decent education for our children should be an absolute priority, not an afterthought. This Government promised to protect pupil spending but it has fallen in real terms after inflation—another broken promise. According to the National Union of Teachers, Fox Hill primary school in my constituency will be £1,003 worse off per pupil than in 2013, and Wisewood Community primary school will be £1,586 worse off per pupil over the same period. By 2019, per pupil funding will have fallen by an average of 11% from 2013 levels.
There are 1.5 million fewer adult learners than there were under the previous Labour Government, and adult skills training has been cut by 54% since 2010. Furthermore, the beleaguered further education sector has fared little better. According to the IFS, by 2020 per student spending will be only just above the level seen 30 years ago at the end of the 1980s.
It is ironic that the Budget fell on International Women’s Day. Tory cuts have disproportionately affected women and, sadly, the Budget does nothing to change that. The Budget hurts the self-employed, low earners and those on benefits while letting the richest off the hook. It is a divisive and unfair Budget, and the Conservatives are clearly not the party of the working people of Britain.
This Budget is, at its heart, deeply unfair. It is also a Budget full of broken promises and missed opportunities, and it will hurt my constituents of Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough.
Margaret Greenwood has subsequently advised me that it is her birthday, too. So again, on both sides of the House, we wish her a very happy birthday.
This Budget was a missed opportunity to help deliver confidence and growth. The OBR has stated that the future is uncertain and that any central forecast is most unlikely to be fulfilled, which is a damning statement as it is ultimately the Government’s responsibility to create certainty.
Brexit approaches us like an enormous black cloud threatening stormy weather, which is perhaps not all the Chancellor’s fault. After all, the Prime Minister sets the direction. As the storm approaches, in the modern parlance of giving names to impending storms, we should call it Storm Theresa. This Budget was another missed opportunity to deal with the unfairness of the steep rise in women’s pensionable age over too short a timeframe. That from a Budget delivered on International Women’s Day. The irony is not lost on the WASPI women.
As thousands of WASPI women demonstrated outside Parliament, making such a tremendous noise that we could hear them clearly in this building, the only man who apparently could not hear was the Chancellor—deaf to the legitimate demands of the WASPI women and desperately hoping that their calls for fairness and equality would go away. Well their calls will not go away. Like the message communicated last week, the volume is going to be turned up. The campaign is gathering momentum and the Government will have to listen.
Some 245 Members of Parliament have lodged petitions asking for action on the WASPI women. There was a debate in Westminster Hall on
Of course, the debate followed a division in this Chamber on
In all our discussions on the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, the focus has been on the 2.6 million women who are supposedly affected—the Government have continually referred to that number—but a freedom of information request that came to light last Friday now alleges that the actual number is not 2.6 million but 3.48 million women. If those reports are accurate, nearly 1 million more women are set to miss out on their pension entitlement than originally thought. It is absolutely outrageous if that is the case, and I ask the Minister to give us clarity on that matter in his summing up.
What is the figure, and why the discrepancy? Why at this stage do the Government not appear to know the exact number of women affected by the changes? We have had the farce of it taking successive Governments 14 years to communicate formally with any of the women affected, and this latest twist adds insult to injury. If the reports are true, how did the Government get the figures wrong? We need answers from them today.
The UK Government must recognise that pensions ought to be a contract, not a benefit. The Budget presented an opportunity for them to live up to that contract. It is clear that delivering fair pensions is not a high priority for the Government. With inflation spikes forecast, the Budget was completely devoid of any mitigating measures to future-proof pensioner incomes. We need a clear commitment that the triple lock will remain in place beyond 2020 and that mitigation will be put in place for the WASPI women. The SNP has already published a paper that explains how the Government can push back the timescales for increasing the pensionable age for women, at a cost of £8 billion in this Parliament. That is affordable, given the £30 billion surplus in the national insurance fund. Why did the Government not take that opportunity in the Budget? What is it going to take for them to act?
There is talk of another referendum on Scottish independence; I wish to make it clear that pensioners in Scotland would get justice and fair pensions from an SNP Government—things that are sadly lacking from the UK Tory Government. The OBR’s economic and fiscal outlook is a damning indictment of Government policy over the past few years and demonstrates the lack of vision from the Government on our economic future.
Every school in my constituency is facing cuts to its funding and rising costs. I speak to headteachers, some of whom have been in teaching for many years, all the time, and they tell me that they are extremely concerned about the funding situation. In the past, they have cut non-essential activities and support services, but they now feel they have no choice but to cut classroom teachers and whole subjects out of the curriculum. For the first time, they think that funding cuts will actually affect the quality of the teaching they provide.
Last night, I went to an event in my constituency for the concerned parents of children in local schools, and well over 200 were present. There was real anger among the parents about the prospects of further cuts. They feel a real sense of betrayal that their children are not going to receive the quality of education that their parents feel they deserve. There are excellent, dedicated teachers in our schools who are ready and willing to do the very best they can for our children, but they will not be able to if the resources available to them are not increased.
There are many different causes of the current crisis, and not all are related to the proposed changes to the funding formula. Costs are increasing because of unavoidable increases in pension and national insurance contributions; the Government are stopping the education services grant, which will end in September; and, absurdly, many schools find themselves having to pay the apprenticeship levy. The funding formula will also decrease the money available to many schools in my constituency.
Parents and teachers in my constituency are not uninformed. They know that there is a squeeze on public spending, that belts have to be tightened and that borrowing has to be cut. But they question some of the decisions that are being made. For example, a National Audit Office report in February this year found that the free schools programme, which was originally budgeted to cost £90 million, is now likely to cost in the region of £9 billion. The cost of procuring land for new school buildings is a large component of that cost, at around £2.5 billion, but the NAO estimates that the Education Funding Agency is paying, on average, almost 20% more than market value for land for new schools. The NAO also found that some sites are being purchased for schools in areas where there is no demand for extra school places.
Nobody is arguing that there is not an urgent need for new school places—not least in my constituency, which badly needs a new secondary school—but the free schools programme is not providing a cost-effective or efficient solution to that need. It urgently needs to be reviewed. Tougher negotiations on land purchases and the targeting of resources to areas of greatest need would provide better value for money for new schools and free up resources to direct towards existing schools.
The Budget statement included money put aside for a new generation of grammar schools, to be introduced as part of the free schools programme. I have searched the Conservative party manifesto from 2015 and can find no reference to this spending commitment. If the Prime Minister declines the necessity to seek a mandate of her own, she has a moral obligation to deliver the manifesto on which the Conservative party was elected. She has no mandate to introduce grammar schools; it was not a spending choice on which the public were asked to vote. There is no evidence that grammar schools deliver better educational outcomes for all children, which is surely the only goal of any Government’s educational policy.
I visited a girls’ comprehensive school in my constituency yesterday—a school that is rated outstanding in all areas. I was impressed by the quality of teaching on display as I watched a year 11 history lesson and a year 7 French lesson. The head told me that they had recently introduced a classical civilisation A-level, in response to demand from pupils, and that one of their alumni was now studying classics at Oxford. This headteacher is worried—as are all the headteachers in my constituency—that the cut in funding means that she will not be able to deliver all the subjects at A-level that she used to. There is nothing that the Prime Minister’s beloved grammars can deliver that this excellent comprehensive school cannot already deliver to the children of my constituency, and deliver without divisive selection. I call on the Prime Minister to cancel her plans for these expensive, unnecessary grammars and make the most of the excellent educational provision that is already available and continue to ensure its excellence.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have both stated their commitment to increasing choice in education. Choice is no good to parents who already have children in schools that are facing funding cuts. Choice implies that there are places in a range of schools for each child, and that parents merely need to make a decision on which one they want. The reality is that this would be an extraordinarily wasteful way to fund school places and that most parents take the place in the school that they are offered. Rather than choice, all most parents want is to know that the school place they are offered is capable of offering their child the very best education possible.
I call on the Government to look again at their spending plans for education and to take heed of the rising chorus of protest against the cuts in school budgets—in my constituency and elsewhere. Investing in education is essential to securing a prosperous future for this country, and skills training—not grammar schools—should be the priority if we are to thrive outside the European Union. I welcome the announcement of further investment in skills training but ask what analysis has been done of how the proposed new T-levels will align with existing vocational qualifications such as NVQs. How much of the proposed new spending will be taken up with establishing new awarding bodies and structures that could have been spent directly on teaching existing qualifications?
Will the hon. Lady agree to work with me and other colleagues in examining whether it is either right or lawful for local authorities to impose the apprenticeship levy on all the schools in our constituencies?
I quite agree that including schools in the apprenticeship levy is utterly absurd. The apprenticeship levy is supposed to raise money for training in employment. To levy it on schools, which are already providing excellent learning opportunities, is outrageous. I certainly agree to work with the right hon. Lady to investigate that further.
I thank colleagues who have spoken in this debate today. They have torn this Budget apart. I am talking about my hon. Friends the Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), for Burnley (Julie Cooper), for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for Redcar (Anna Turley), for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), my new hon. Friend, Gareth Snell and many other people.
Last week, the Chancellor painted a rosy picture of the nation’s finances. He claimed that the Conservative party’s stewardship had been nothing short of miraculous. He was relaxed and attempted jokes throughout his speech. The Prime Minister’s shoulders shook with amusement, and many Government Members chuckled away. Some of the more experienced Government Members were watching cautiously, as the nosedive gained velocity. The Chancellor had got it wrong—big time. Within hours, he was attacked by many of his own Back Benchers. He was left hung out to dry by the Prime Minister, and, unsurprisingly, he has faced universal criticism over his plans to raise national insurance to 11% for millions of self-employed people. As Sir Michael Caine in the iconic film “The Italian Job” said, “You were only supposed to blow the doors off.” [Interruption.] It would have been unparliamentary to throw in that word. Well, the debris from the explosion is still descending. To put it purely and simply, the manifesto pledge was broken.
Since last Wednesday, Nos. 10 and 11 have been in a briefing war, with each trying to blame the other for the fine mess. Ostensibly, No.10 suggested that the Chancellor sneaked the national insurance rise into the Budget. Apparently, other shocked Cabinet colleagues have indicated that he failed to mention that it would break their manifesto pledge. As my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood said, it is worrying that Cabinet members do not know their own manifesto commitments. Perhaps they do not care. Then again, the Government have an insouciant attitude towards their manifesto commitment—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”]. I will come back to that in a minute. The insouciant attitude goes on. First the Government committed to getting rid of the deficit by 2015—a broken promise. Secondly, they said that it would be pushed back to 2019-20—another broken promise. Thirdly, they vowed that the debt would start to come down after 2015—another broken promise.
The Government will have virtually doubled the debt and doubled the time they have taken to get it down, and this is what they call success and fiscal credibility. They seem to think that they can simply press the reset button when it comes to meeting their own fiscal rules, and that no one will notice. It is the flipside of John Maynard Keynes’ approach—namely, “When I change my mind, the facts change with it.”
Now that the hon. Gentleman has had his bit of fun, would he possibly explain how he proposes that the Labour party would find the money required for social care?
By fiscal rectitude. When the Government miss a deadline, their modus operandi is to set a new one and brazenly move on. It is the immutable law of Tory economics—make it up as you go along. What happened to the long-term economic plan? Well, it did not last very long. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have their finger prints all over every single financial decision that has been made during the past seven years. It is no surprise that they have come under criticism from many in their own party, including the former Member for Witney, and the former Chancellor Lord Lamont who called the national insurance debacle a “rookie error”—otherwise known, in the real world, as gross incompetence. But, regrettably, other people will pay the price for that incompetence.
Turning to Brexit—I will mention it even if the Chancellor does not want to—it is the 10th anniversary of the production of “Freeing Britain to Compete: Equipping the UK for Globalisation”. The publication was a wide-ranging policy document authored by John Redwood and friends. It was endorsed by the then shadow Cabinet, which included the current incumbents of No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street. The publication was hard to track down as it has been removed from the Conservative party website for good reason, but I found a copy. Its contents were toxic—all the more so in the wake of the subsequent global financial crisis—and remain so. But in the light of Brexit, and the resurgence of the right hon. Member for Wokingham’s influence, it will soon get a second run out.
It is worth apprising the House of a few nuggets in the document’s pages. It includes policies such as the abolition of inheritance tax; charging foreign lorries to use British roads; the potential abolition of the BBC licence fee, which it refers to as a “poll tax”; the watering down of money laundering regulations; and the deregulation of mortgage finance because
“it is the lending institutions rather than the client taking the risk.”
Try telling that to someone whose home has been repossessed.
The publication goes on to say:
“We need to make it more difficult for ministers to regulate”.
Remember that this document was dated August 2007, and was rubber-stamped by the current Prime Minister and the Chancellor at the time that Northern Rock was about to go under. The document continues—listen to this one—to say that the Labour Government
“claims that this regulation is all necessary. They seem to believe that without it banks could steal our money”.
Well, that might not be the case, but, at the peak of the banking crisis, we had liabilities of £1.2 trillion. Many people did believe that the banks were stealing money and queued up outside banks accordingly. The document refers to wanting
“reliably low inflation, taking no risks by turning fiscal rules into flexible friends”— not that the Chancellor has many of those nowadays. As for Europe, in search of jobs and prosperity the document says:
“An incoming Conservative government should go to Brussels with proposals to deregulate the whole EU”.
No wonder they wanted to bury the evidence—it is the autobiography of the hard-line Brexiteers, and the Tory blueprint for a post-Brexit, deregulated Britain. It is a race to the bottom.
These policies are a telling narrative of the views of the fundamentalist wing of the Conservative party. The Prime Minister is hostage to that right wing, and she is on the hook. The stage directions are coming from Wokingham, Haltemprice and Howden, North Somerset, and Chingford and Woodford Green, with occasional guest appearances by the Foreign Secretary. The forlorn, melancholic Chancellor is briefed against—he is not laughing now—because he may just have a less hard-line approach to Brexit than his colleagues.
These are the dusted-off policies of hard Brexiteers, who will stop at nothing until Britain becomes a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation economy. They want to turn our country—not their country—into the bargain basement of the western world, and they have the Prime Minister in tow. Parliamentary scrutiny is a hindrance.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has put kamikaze pilots in the cockpit. The Chancellor knows this too well, and that is why there is a reported £60 billion set aside as a trauma fund—a failure fund. It is not Brexit-proofing the economy, but proofing the economy from the toxic ideology of the hard Brexiteers.
The Government’s proposal to increase insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% is a regressive measure and a charge on households, and we will not support it. It was a surprise to see it in the autumn statement, coming as it did from a Government who use the high cost of insurance premiums as an excuse for curbs on victims’ rights to claim compensation, and we will oppose that rise. While the Government drive up the price of insurance for millions of families, through other policies they will forgo £73 billion of revenue.
The Budget claims it is for lower and middle earners, the NHS, social care agencies, the self-employed, schools, businesses, pubs, the strivers and the entrepreneurs. It wants to give them the thumbs-up, but, in practice, it is not doing that; on the contrary, it is putting two fingers up to them, and that is something Labour will never do.
This is a Budget that demonstrates the Government’s determination to face up to our long-term challenges. This is a Budget that recognises that the only sustainable way to improve living standards is to improve our productivity. This is a Budget that recognises that sustainable public finances are not an impediment to prosperity but a necessary precondition.
I would like to thank my hon. Friends who participated in the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), for Telford (Lucy Allan), for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately).
May I say a particular word of congratulation to Gareth Snell? I apologise for having missed his speech, but I have heard from a number of people that it was excellent, and it proves that, in terms of his attributes as a Member of Parliament, it is not only because he is not Paul Nuttall that he will be welcome in this place.
I could probably summarise the other contributions from the Opposition Benches as saying that we are not spending enough, we are taxing too much and we are borrowing too much. Thankfully, it is not my job to reconcile all of that, and I wish Peter Dowd the best of luck—he can say it is fiscal rectitude if he likes.
An important part of this Budget has been ensuring that this country has the skills we need to grow in the 21st century. We have to face up to the fact that tomorrow’s labour market is going to look very different from today’s. One study, for example, estimates that over a third of all jobs in the UK are at high risk of replacement in the next one to two decades, as technology and society advance. Economic, social and technological change can make certain jobs or institutions obsolete: lamplighters, handloom weavers and the Hansom Cab Company—I suppose we could add the Labour party to that list.
The job of the Government is not to stand in the way of those changes, preserving the old by stifling the new; instead, our role is to prepare the country and its people to adapt to the changes ahead, and that is what this Budget was all about: giving young people the skills they will need to get ahead in tomorrow’s world. That includes expanding the programme of free schools, investing more in schools maintenance, reforming technical education, and increasing teaching hours for further education students.
Alongside that, we also took steps to help people with the opportunities to upskill and reskill throughout their working lives, as well as to help our top researchers to develop so that our brightest can become the world’s best. We are taking forward an ambitious plan to improve education across the board for people of all backgrounds and of all ages, because that, alongside our investment in the country’s underlying infrastructure, is what will count in turning the tide on Britain’s long-standing productivity problem. Only by doing that can we increase living standards and fund world-class public services.
But as we prepare a bright future for the 21st century, we do so responsibly. This was a Budget that protected and improved our health and social services, and a Budget that invested in reform for the benefit of the next generation of workers and businesses alike, but a Budget that did so by funding all the new spending commitments it made, because, unlike Labour, we do not believe in spending and promising what we cannot deliver. That means having a tax base that is capable of funding the public services we provide, and doing so in a way that is fair.
We have heard a lot about the change we made to national insurance for the self-employed, and we are listening to hon. Members’ concerns. I think we all have to recognise that the difference between the benefits received by the employed and the self-employed have narrowed but the gap in contributions has not. This means that the employed pay a lot more for the same benefits. As self-employment grows in our economy—a welcome trend—that should not place a pressure on funding public services and deficit reduction. A Government addressing long-term challenges have to address this point, not ignore it.
This is a Budget that keeps Britain working—one that invests in our people, infrastructure and public services but does so responsibly, continuing to steer the country’s course away from Labour’s “spend what you can borrow” approach to our “spend what you can afford”. In doing so, we are once again demonstrating that we are the party that is delivering for this generation but not at the expense of the next generation. That is why the House should support the Budget in the Lobby tonight.
Question put and agreed to.
(1) That it is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
I am now required under
I must inform the House that for the purposes of