Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
It is a pleasure to follow Jack Brereton. This Finance Bill does not address the fundamental funding problems in our communities and public services. During the Chancellor’s Budget speech, he told us that the era of austerity was nearly over. He told us about the money for the “little extras” for our schools and that all would be rosy as he increased tax thresholds. Perhaps he was too distracted thinking up bad jokes to fully appreciate the effect of his Budget and policies, which mean that for many people the era of austerity is far from over. The Budget did not provide the substantial funding our public services need to be reliable and decent, and failed to invest properly in our public services. This is quite clearly a continuation of austerity.
My borough of Enfield has seen its funding cut by £161 million since 2010, which is well over 50% of its government funding, with other cuts still to come, and it is not alone. Like Enfield, most councils have been cut to the bone. Demand-led pressures on areas such as children’s services and adult social care will mean the council having to cut already-reduced services. Enfield has been affected by damping. The Government, having worked out what it needed, decided to take money away and move it elsewhere. I ask the Minister: when can we have that money back to fund the services that Enfield needs, and which the Government agree it needs? For such councils, austerity is not over, but will carry on for years to come. Is he pleased to see councils failing—councils such as Northampton—and going bust on the Government’s watch? The Government can fix this but choose not to.
Policing remains under-resourced. Last week, a 98-year-old man was seriously assaulted in his home in my constituency and now lies seriously ill in hospital, and today I learned there had been a stabbing near Arnos Grove station. What does the Minister have to say about the increase in crime and the cuts to policing in my constituency and across the country? Is austerity over for them? Yesterday, I spoke to the two police officers and one police community support officer charged with policing one ward of 10,000 people in my constituency. Does the Chancellor think that is sufficient? I invite him to come and listen to the concerns of local residents, victims of crime and those who live in fear. Why isn’t anything being done to reverse these cuts? Is the Minister happy with the level of police funding?
Education is another area of failure for the Government. The idea that £400 million for so-called “little extras” goes anywhere near to addressing the funding crisis in schools is insulting. I am a school governor at Eversley Primary School, in my constituency, and I am missing a governors meeting tonight to take part in this debate to let the Government know how schools are suffering with their budget cuts. In my conversation with the headteacher earlier today, she told me that the school was facing a £500,000 budget deficit next year and was now relying on the donations of parents and staff to pay for resources. Eversley is an outstanding primary school and is not alone in my constituency in facing a funding crisis that is a direct result of the Government’s policies. If the Minister does not believe me, he is welcome to meet me and headteachers in my constituency to look at their budgets for next year. He suggests there is more money for schools, but does he realise there are more children in our schools than ever before?
Even for school meals, the Government have taken no account of the increase in food prices or inflation since 2010, meaning that the budget for producing free school meals for all pupils from reception to year 2 has remained the same for more than eight years at £2.30 per meal. That makes it harder to provide a nutritious meal for children in their early school years. How is that joined up with the Government’s strategy on tackling childhood obesity? If the Chancellor wants to know where to find additional funding for education, he could look at the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which last year spent £17 million re-brokering failing academies to other academy chains. Why is there no scrutiny of this shocking waste of taxpayers’ money?
As my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris mentioned so eloquently, in an attempt to shore up and support bookmakers, the Chancellor decided to give them more time to make more profits from fixed odds betting terminals—and thus more revenue for the Treasury—thereby condemning hundreds of people to the abject misery brought on by gambling addiction, with many suffering great personal harm and some committing suicide. What a shocking state of affairs.
There was no help in the Budget either for people on universal credit. The £1.7 billion put back in by the Government is less than a third of the £7 billion taken out. That is no help to a local resident losing £58 per week as she migrates from family tax credits to universal credit. The amount she is losing is going towards funding the tax cuts in the Budget. The Minister spoke of fairness in his opening speech. Where is the fairness for her?
The Chancellor issued a caveat in his statement, saying that the Budget would be all off if there were a no-deal Brexit. What the Bill aims to do is give the Government sweeping powers to amend tax legislation in such an event. It is another attempt at a power grab, which is something that we have become used to with this Government. Once again, Parliament is being sidelined.
The Government’s economic failure will continue with this Finance Bill. The Bill and the Budget are not fair. They are failing our communities by not replacing the police officers whose numbers have been cut since 2010, by not giving local authorities the funds that they need, by not providing what is needed for our schools, and by not helping the most vulnerable in our society.
A fair taxation system is for the common good, and should underpin shared prosperity through universal services. The Bill does not offer a progressive and fair tax system, and it means more austerity for the vast majority of the people. The Minister forgets at his peril that the people who benefit from tax cuts are also the people who are asked to make donations to cover the funding cuts in their children’s schools, who experience the burglaries that police no longer attend, who have seen a deterioration in public services, and who are worse off under universal credit. Austerity is not over for them either.
The Bill is not fair. It does not help our communities, including the most vulnerable, and it is not fit for purpose.