It is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary neighbour, Eddie Hughes, though he will not be surprised to learn that I take a slightly different view of the Budget.
The backdrop to the Budget was a singular political claim made a month ago at the Conservative party conference that austerity was over. Every Government is responsible for the consequences of its policies, but with that claim the Prime Minister and her Government took particular responsibility for every closed library, every universal credit rent arrears, every service denied to people.
Let us look, then, at what the Budget really did. The Chancellor used an unexpected increase in tax revenues to fund the health service for the next few years—I welcome extra money for the health service, of course, although by historical standards the rate is unexceptional —but he did not end austerity in other services. Let us take schools, for example. In the first decade of this century, under a Labour Government, there was a 65% increase in funding per pupil. Since 2010, there has been a reduction of 8%. That is a difference between a Labour Government and a Tory Government. When the schools budget is cut, it is a cut in opportunity and in social mobility, there is a reduction in the potential of people to make the most of their talents and it reinforces inequality.
The same is true of crime. The greatest freedom people can have is to go about their daily business free from the fear of crime. In the west midlands, we have lost 2,000 officers. We have seen a 21% increase in violent crime, a 17% increase in crime involving offensive weapons and a 23% increase in sexual offences, and now we are faced, because of pension changes, with the prospect of losing another 450 police officers. This is an attack on people’s freedom, and it strikes the poorest in our society more than others. So the Budget does not present an end to austerity.
There is a particularly absurd nature to the claim: it is being made as we are about to commit an act of enormous economic self-harm. The country needs hope, but the tragedy of Brexit is that, having scapegoated Brussels, immigration and others, we are, in the act of leaving, making it much more difficult to give the country that hope and a plan for the whole country.