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“No social system will bring us happiness, health and prosperity unless it is inspired by something greater than materialism.”
I agree with Clement Attlee. To me and many others in this House, the aspiration is to create and be part of a community and society that cares for one another and enables everyone to succeed in life, in whatever form success takes—a society that is safe and secure from cradle to grave and that provides accessible healthcare, quality housing, outstanding education and secure employment. A Government’s ultimate goal should be the wellbeing of its citizens, and there is much evidence to suggest that higher levels of wellbeing can lead to higher levels of job performance and productivity and greater job satisfaction. That is the society I want to live in.
Unfortunately, to say that that is not a reality under the current Government is an understatement. This Finance Bill does nothing to deliver the people of this country’s wellbeing. On new clause 2, a UN report just last week told us that the Government have inflicted “great misery” on our people, with
“punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” austerity policies, driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than by economic necessity. This is from the United Nations poverty envoy. We are told that levels of child poverty are
“not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and economic disaster”.
The Budget was an opportunity to make some attempt to right those wrongs. Did it offer full and fair funding for our teachers and education service? No. Did it offer reassurance for those suffering the consequences of the cruel and callous roll-out of universal credit? No. Did it attempt to put an end to the causes of homelessness and destitution? No. Did it commit to funding our police services to help halt the massive increase in violent crime? No. Did it commit to funding our local councils, suffering 50% cuts, which are damaging the very fabric of our society? No. Did it do anything to relieve the hardship felt by so many women across our country? No.
Some 14 million of our citizens—our people; a fifth of the population—are living in poverty. One and a half million are destitute, with no money for even basic essentials. Up to 40% of children will be living in poverty by 2022. This Finance Bill is about lip service and rhetoric—pretending to care about the poor and vulnerable, but doing nothing substantial to address the misery and suffering felt by so many in our society. There is so much poverty and inequality in our country, and our country has never been more miserable or divided—divided geographically, generationally and economically. We have poverty in our cities, towns and villages, but under this Government there is a poverty of compassion, a poverty of empathy and a poverty of insight into what real, ordinary people’s lives are like.
My mum said to me a few years before her death, having lived through the depression in the 1930s and survived the Manchester blitz in the second world war: “I’m glad I’m at the end of my life and not at the start when I look at what this Government are doing to our society. They’re punishing people for being poor”. Enough now. The people of this country have had enough. Labour will keep up the pressure and fight for those who are stuck in poor quality housing, those who are struggling to feed their families and those who are not yet old enough to understand what poverty is and how it may impact their life. They deserve better.
I would like to finish with a quotation from the philosopher Thomas Paine:
“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”
It is interesting that the Government are currently facing so many questions and inquiries, both within this House and beyond.