I will start by setting the record straight: the economic crisis happened in the United States. It started with Lehman Brothers and the US housing market. For the information of those on the Government Benches, George Osborne only a couple of months ago said it was not Gordon Brown’s fault. If the Labour Government had not taken the measures they did, most of those on the Government Benches would be sleeping rough tonight because their pensions and incomes would have all gone. They may want to ponder that when they make all sorts of allegations about the previous Labour Government.
I note that there has been no reference, certainly from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to any discussions he may have had about fracking. People are concerned about the consequences of fracking, so I hope that when the Minister winds up he will tell us where the Government actually stand on it. To say the least, there has been quite a lot of public disquiet. I also note that, as far as I could see, there was no reference in the Budget to a social housing programme. What I mean by that is council housing. The only way we can deal with the housing crisis is through proper social housing at affordable rents. In my experience, only local authorities can do that. I spent 22 years on a local authority, so I do have some experience of that.
Since their party conference, the Government have repeatedly said that the end of austerity is coming. I did not see that in the Budget. As expected, the Government have failed to live up to that promise. The end of austerity will come only when the Government increase funding across the board. This Budget does not give the police, schools, hospitals or local councils the money they badly need and for years have been denuded of.
Another issue I did not hear mentioned in the Budget was the issue of WASPI women and women born in the 1950s. WASPI women took the chance to express their disappointment a couple of days ago in the Public Gallery, so we have a good idea what they are feeling. These women have had sharp rises in income poverty, with their average weekly income falling by £32. The IFS put the gain to the Treasury from the rise in pension age at £5.1 billion per year since 2010, saving it £40 billion. Frankly, the Treasury can afford to pay them. Despite that, the Government have offered nothing to the 5 million people waiting longer for their pensions. It is no wonder then that the WASPI women are angry and are demonstrating on the streets.
On universal credit, the Chancellor was forced to increase universal credit funding amid Department for Work and Pensions mismanagement. We still do not know what the Government are going to do about that. Providing £1 billion of extra money over five years will make a difference, but not much to those losing out. Some 3.2 million families will lose £48 a week on average; the new funding means an extra £1.20 a week. Higher work allowances reduce losses for some, but the Government must fund universal credit properly or abandon it. As Mr Duncan Smith said, the Government are still not adequately funding universal credit. They cannot keep delaying its roll-out forever.
The Budget gives schools a one-off bonus of £400 million to help to buy the “little extras” that the Chancellor referred to.