Budget Resolutions - Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 31st October 2018.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 1:31 pm, 31st October 2018

I will now make some progress, as I am sure Mr Speaker will not indulge me much longer.

I am not sure what is needed for the Conservative Government to see that their economic policies are causing more harm than good. Rising prices and stagnating wages mean that people are now £800 a year worse off than they were a decade ago. Just under half a million young people are still unemployed, and one in nine are in insecure agency work, on a zero-hours contract or in low-paid self-employment. That is the everyday reality for millions of working people—the people behind the supposed record levels of employment bandied about by the Government as the marker of a successful labour market.

The truth is that there are real issues in our labour market—rising insecurity, stagnating wages and a productivity crisis—so it is disappointing to see so little to address them in the Budget. There are increases to the minimum wage or, as the Government have rebranded it, the national living wage, but it is still significantly below the rate set for the real living wage. One in five people earn less than the wage they need to get by, according to the Living Wage Foundation, and the increases will not change that. In addition, unlike the Government’s minimum wage, the real living wage is based on a review of the evidence on what is happening to people’s living standards right now.

The Government’s failure to immediately reform the IR35 rules, which govern how much tax those working as contractors pay, shows that they are refusing to take tax avoidance seriously. By pushing back those reforms to 2020, the Government are denying themselves much-needed revenue, which could be used to properly fund our schools and the NHS, or to pay workers a decent wage. How many more people need to take to the streets protesting about their precarious working conditions? How bad do things have to get before the Government finally take action?

We have heard lots of warm words about defence spending, but they are cold comfort to many of the workers in the shipbuilding industry, such as at Cammell Laird and Appledore, who are facing real uncertainty as to whether their jobs are safe. It is disappointing that the Government failed to announce any support for our manufacturing or shipbuilding industries, which are vital to our long-term economic success.

In the same month that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading authority on climate change, set out the devastating consequences for human civilisation of a business-as-usual approach and the scale of ambition needed to avoid dangerous climate change, what did the Chancellor do? He did not even mention climate change, and the Red Book was little better. The Chancellor left the carbon price support unchanged and said that the Government would seek to reduce the rate if the total carbon price remains high—that is as clear as mud. The Chancellor tinkered at the edges of the climate change levy, a policy introduced by Labour but undermined by his predecessor, George Osborne, who removed exemptions for renewable energy. The Government did announce a £315 million industrial energy transformation fund to support businesses to increase their energy-efficiency. That sounds good, but when we realise that it will be paid for entirely by money saved from scrapping capital allowances for energy and water efficiency, which enabled businesses to claim back the costs of investments, we see that it is really just rearranging the furniture.

What else was there? As has been said, the Government announced £20 million for nuclear fusion. I do not know whether the Chancellor’s understanding of nuclear fusion is as limited as his understanding of blockchain, but these figures should illustrate the challenge here: £20 million is 330 times smaller than the €6.6 billion the EU will contribute to one nuclear fusion experimental facility in France—this is not even a drop in the nuclear ocean. Of renewable energy—wind, solar and tidal—not a single mention was made, at a time when electricity and gas wholesale prices are rising, and we enter another winter with household bills surging and millions facing fuel poverty. There was £10 million for urban tree planting and a commitment to purchase £50 million-worth of carbon credits from tree planting, although it is unclear whether that is new funding. The lack of action on climate mitigations is disappointing.