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.