Budget Resolutions - Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 31st October 2018.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 2:44 pm, 31st October 2018

The Prime Minister said in her conference speech that this was the end of austerity. The Chancellor had an opportunity on Monday to make that a reality, but it did not happen.

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy relied on the usual Conservative mantra, which is that austerity is all Labour’s fault. I remind Conservative Members that up until 2007, they did not complain about our spending; they said that they would match it. In some areas, they wanted more expenditure. They wanted less regulation of banks, not more. If we had done what the Conservatives suggested we did with the banks when they crashed, we would be in a worse state now. My hon. Friend Mr Sweeney is correct: the economy was growing in 2010. It was the reckless emergency Budget in 2010 by the incoming coalition Government that crashed the economy, and it is that austerity we are suffering from now.

The Secretary of State said that Labour is anti-business. I am not anti-business. Business is very important for my constituents and the health of the economy, but strong local government and strong communities are also important for that. The Government have a role in ensuring that we have economic prosperity.

As my right hon. Friend David Hanson said, austerity clearly has not finished in the Home Office, and it has not finished in local government. The one-off proposals show that Durham County Council, which has lost £200 million in grant over the past eight years, will lose another £14 million next year, because the revenue support grant has not been changed. There is no change—communities and councils up and down the country will still face austerity, so the idea that austerity has somehow finished in this country is complete nonsense.

On strong local communities, I welcome the commitment in the Budget to £2 billion for mental health, but the Government have got it wrong, because the investment needs to go into local community services. We do not want people to get to A&E. It is great having a psychiatric nurse or professional in A&E, but we have failed if people get there in the first place. Likewise, I welcome the proposal to put mental health workers in schools, but many of the young people we are talking about do not attend school. We need investment in local communities’ support network.

We must also ensure that we have the mental health professionals in place, because there is a crisis with them that we need to address. That is where the money needs to go. We need to hardwire mental health into Government policy making and not have this ridiculous situation where policies such as cuts to local authorities and universal credit lead to a mental health crisis. We need to address the core problem, and this Budget is not doing it.

I want to briefly touch on defence, which Members will know is another one of my interests. Great play has been made of the extra £1 billion for defence, but we must remember that in the past eight years, the coalition and Conservative Governments have cut 16% of the defence budget. I asked yesterday what the extra £1 billion will be spent on, but the Government cannot say. I suspect that it is not new money, but rather drawdown from the money already committed for the nuclear deterrent, so this will not be a bonanza for defence and will not meet the £20 billion black hole in the defence budget.

Likewise, I welcome the fact that the Chancellor announced £10 million for the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust to support veterans’ mental health, but is that new money or existing money? If we look at the covenant report, there is already £10 million in that budget annually. If there is an extra £10 million, that is good, but we do not need a sticking plaster. We need to mainstream veterans’ mental health in the health service and do what I suggested in 2010, which is to ensure that we have veterans’ tracking in the health service. We announced that in 2010, and the first thing the coalition Government did was to stop it and not replace it.

This Budget is a missed opportunity. Communities are going to suffer, and if we get what we have had from this Conservative Government in the past few years, even where there is extra money, it will be doled out like a pork barrel to areas that support the Conservatives. Other areas that they do not really care about will get nothing. We only need to look at the north-east to see that that strategy is continuing with this Budget, and it is an absolute disgrace.