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.