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.