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.