I am pleased to follow Lee Rowley.
This Budget is a missed opportunity. It does not even offer key services the respite they need from relentless cuts, let alone the investment they need to redress the damage done by eight years of austerity. We need to put the record straight: Labour paid off more debt than any previous Administration on record. Capitalism fuelled the global financial crisis; it was Gordon Brown who saved this country from recession. We were on our way through the recovery route, but this Government chose the austerity route to pay off the debt, with ordinary people paying the highest price. Is it paid off? No, and as it slips it grows for the next Budget. The Chancellor says that if there is a no-deal Brexit there will be a need for another Budget, and the blame will shift to the EU. What is the cost of Brexit to date? Centre for European Research analysis shows that it is already costing the public purse £500 million a week, and the economy is already 2.5% smaller than it would have been if we had chosen to remain.
The Budget is a wasted opportunity. The invaluable emergency and life-saving services such as the fire service and police have been stripped to the bone. By the end of this decade the Tories will have inflicted a 50% real-terms cut on the Merseyside fire and rescue service since 2010. As a result, we have gone from having 1,000 firefighters to having 620 across Merseyside—the fire service is stretched beyond limits. The Government need to stop and evaluate the magnitude and impact of the cuts today. They need to be halted; they are dangerous.
The National Audit Office says that Merseyside police numbers have been slashed by 31%. Merseyside has been the third worst hit force under this Government. We are seeing crimes spike and charges plummet around the country as our police struggle to keep up with the demand for their services and the justice system creaks. The chief constable for Merseyside has stated this week that the impact of the cuts will be “crippling”. The Government need to listen and act. The British justice system, acclaimed the world over, is creaking.
The Government are hacking away at our public services in a way that is without precedent: families suffering, wage stagnation, cuts to benefits, 40% of universal credit recipients in work. My constituency ranks high in income deprivation, mortality rates for 29 to 44-year-olds are growing in comparison with those of other age groups, and suicide rates are the highest in the country. We need a Government who care, who invest in people, and who are prepared to accept responsibility and meet needs first.