Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:21 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General 5:21 pm, 14th March 2017

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.

Aneurin Bevan once said of the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan—the late Lord Stockton—that he had an

“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

“will not raise VAT, National Insurance contributions or Income Tax”.

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.