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The Chancellor had the opportunity to strengthen the economy, invest in jobs and guide us towards a brighter future. What did we get? A wasted opportunity, a timid response and an overwhelming feeling of, “Really? Is that all?” This is a broken-promise Budget that prolongs austerity.
We have seen wages continuing to stagnate for most workers and falling for the lowest-paid workers. Let us not forget those long years of the public sector pay freeze, when nurses, police officers, firefighters, teachers and the rest of our public service heroes were treated so contemptuously by Ministers. For all the Chancellor’s boasting about the number of jobs in the economy, the reality is that there is an explosion in low-paid jobs, insecure jobs, part-time jobs and jobs with zero-hours contracts. That is what people in Slough tell me every week.
Behind the economic figures lies the human cost. The price of austerity is not paid by Ministers; it is paid by the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. Look at the growth of food banks, which provide emergency food aid to people in desperate need. In my constituency, volunteers provide food for people in Wexham, Cippenham, Langley and central Slough. They are supported by the generosity of people across the constituency, including through supermarkets, schools and faith-based institutions. I applaud that spirit of altruism and humanity, but why should anybody in modern Britain need emergency food aid?
In Slough we have a Labour council, which has managed its budgets well. It seeks to provide excellent services and to protect those most in need. Our Labour councillors in Slough do an excellent job, and they are dedicated public servants, but they are not magicians. They cannot magic up money from the magic money tree when the Chancellor and the Government have made it vanish.
Back in December 2010, the BBC reported that Slough Borough Council would be the hardest hit of all the neighbouring—predominantly Tory—councils in Berkshire. Since then we have seen increasing pressure on budgets, particularly in social care, and an increase in child poverty. According to the charity End Child Poverty, there are more than 11,000 children in poverty in Slough—one in three local children—and that child poverty is rising.
Slough councillors tell me that, by March 2019, the number of people in temporary accommodation will be 70% higher than in April 2018. We have seen a 300% increase in people living in temporary accommodation since 2014. The good people of Slough would be forgiven for thinking that the Chancellor is all smoke—