Spending Round 2019

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:43 pm, 4th September 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The member of staff was escorted off the premises by an armed police officer. Can I just say that that is no way to treat a member of staff? I ask the Chancellor to tell Mr Cummings, on the spending review: do not insult the intelligence of the British people. The people will see today’s statement as the grubby electioneering that it is.

This is not a spending review as we know it. This is straight out of the Lynton Crosby handbook of opinion-poll politics. The Tories have checked what the top three or four issues in the polls are and they have cynically judged how little money they have to throw around to try to neutralise those issues and the concerns of people. To come here and try to fool us with references to people’s priorities is beyond irony.

When did this extremist, right-wing Tory group ever put the people first—ever? Were they putting the people first when they froze child benefit year after year or when they introduced universal credit, a brutal regime? The result this summer, according to the Childhood Trust, was children scavenging for food in bins because they did not have free school meals in the summer holidays. Were they putting people first when they cut council budgets, and prevented 1 million elderly and disabled people from getting the social care they needed? Were they putting people first when they cut social services budgets so much that we now have record numbers of children coming into care and 155 women a day turned away from refuges?

We are expected to believe that these Tories, who for years have voted for harsh, brutal austerity, have had some form of damascene conversion. I tell you, they treat our people with contempt. Announcements have been dripped out over the last week or so, all designed to give the impression of a spending spree—announcements dictated by No. 10 and meekly accepted by a Chancellor too weak to conduct a full multi-year spending review as he should, even before the Government’s majority disappeared yesterday.

We have seen the so-called headroom, which the Chancellor’s predecessor had claimed was needed to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, spent instead on preparing for a general election. We all know that the Chancellor may not be in his job very long and maybe that is why he felt he needed to rush a spending round based on figures from March, rather than wait for the Office for Budget Responsibility to tell him officially what the rest of us have known for some time: that the economy, after nine years of Tory austerity, is in bad shape and, yes, is getting worse, stagnating.

A full fiscal event would have meant new economic forecasts and the need for a fiscal framework to give Departments security over the Parliament, allowing them to plan ahead after years of cuts. Instead we get this sham of a spending review. The Tories are claiming to be against austerity after years of voting for it. They are claiming to be using headroom, which the Chancellor knows has largely disappeared, yet they are still failing to deliver a real end to austerity.

Let us take a look at some of the announcements that the Chancellor has confirmed today. For schools, the Chancellor announced new spending of £1.8 billion next year. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously estimated that it would cost £3.8 billion this year alone to reverse the cuts that have been made. Was the Chancellor aware, when drawing up his spending plans, that the Department for Education budget as a whole has been slashed by almost £10 billion in real terms since 2010? The reality is this, is it not: heads will still be sending out begging letters and teachers will still be buying basic materials for their classes?

The Government have some front to mention childcare after hundreds of Sure Start centres closed on their watch, undermining the start in life for our children. They mention that £700 million was announced for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Does the Chancellor know that the Local Government Association found that councils already face a funding shortfall for SEN children of £1.2 billion by 2021? The reality is that these children will still be left vulnerable and in need, with their futures in jeopardy. That is what it means today.

Further education colleges are getting a one-off £400 million. Does the Chancellor really think that they should be grateful when he has cut £3.3 billion from them since 2010? The reality is that the economy will continue to desperately need skills and training, and our young people will still be denied them.

On the NHS, the announcement of £1.8 billion spending for the NHS has already been exposed as largely a reannouncement of existing money. There is no mention, is there, of the £6 billion backlog in the maintenance we need in our hospitals? Our hospitals are still using buckets to catch water coming through leaking roofs. Operating theatres are closed because of the lack of maintenance over the past nine years of austerity. The Government mention GP waiting times. Any announcement on GP waiting times is likely to turn out to be totally undeliverable. Why? Because we have just lost 600 full-time equivalent GPs over the past year. They are just not there because of nine years of lack of investment.

On local government, any new money for local government today will be a drop in the ocean compared with the 60% funding cuts that councils have suffered in recent years. What effect does the Chancellor estimate his announcement today will have, for example, on the crisis in children’s services that we have highlighted at every spending review and budget over the past two years? There has been a 29% drop in Government funding after eight years and as a result vulnerable children are left at risk.

On homelessness, the Chancellor mentioned £54 million of additional spending to tackle homelessness. There has been a 160% increase in people sleeping rough. In the past two years, people have died near the doors of Parliament. The LGA says that there is a £100 million spending gap just to get by. The most vulnerable in our society have been put at risk as a result of the Government’s austerity over nine years, and he expects us to celebrate an inadequate attempt to plaster over the problems we have.

On bus services, the Chancellor mentions £200 million allocated to them. That is a third of the £645 million that has been cut from bus services since 2010.

The Government seem to forget that they cut 20,000 police officers. The Chancellor expects us to celebrate what he has announced today, when we now know that at best there will be only 13,000 on the streets. Can he tell us how many will be frontline? We will support him in the investment to protect religious establishments and communities, and we will support him in tackling the problem of protecting young children from online abuse—of course we will—but the real protection comes from the safer neighbourhood teams that we constructed under Labour and that we had in every one of our wards, with a sergeant, police officers and police support officers, all of whom have been wiped out. [Interruption.] An hon. Member shouts, “Not true.” He needs to go out into the community and talk about the increase in violent crime in our communities as a result of what has happened.

The Chancellor spoke of money to create another 10,000 prison places. Can he just tell us: are they the same 10,000 prison places promised by previous Justice Secretaries in 2016, 2017 and yet again in 2018? Can he answer how many suicides and how many assaults on staff have taken place because of the Government’s cuts to prison staff over the past nine years? Will he, or someone in the Government, ever apologise to the Prison Officers Association for ignoring its warnings about the effect of staff cuts on safety in our prisons?

Those are just some of the announcements we heard today, but there are many that we have heard very little about. What about those who have been effectively forgotten in the Chancellor’s opportunist, one-year spending round? What about real structural reform to address the social care crisis, which we have been waiting for, for how many years—three, four? All we have now is a sticking plaster of £1 billion, which will leave this sector in the same sorry state as it is in now. What does that mean in real terms? It means 1.4 million people not getting the care they need and 87 people a day dying before they get the social care they need to support them.

I understand that the Chancellor’s mates, the bankers, were pushing the other day for more tax cuts and less regulation. I suppose they think they have a soft touch in No. 10 and No. 11. I hope he sent them packing. When we compare how much has been cut from the basic social services that we and vulnerable people need for support, with what is calculated to be, by the end of the next couple of years, £110 billion given out in tax cuts to corporations, we can see why people do not believe the Government have any concept of social justice or equality. Does the Chancellor have any words for the thousands suffering—[Interruption.] Boris Johnson said, “Pathetic.” I’ll tell you what develops real pathos. Many of us in our constituency surgeries are having to deal with people who are dependent on universal credit. Yet the Chancellor did not have any words for the thousands who are suffering from the brutal roll-out of universal credit—the people we represent who are now queueing up at food banks as a result of the cuts. Traditionally, the spending review concentrates on departmental expenditure limits, rather than social security. I appreciate that. But there was no reason why the Chancellor could not have signalled the Government’s intent at least to end the misery and hardship that their policy is causing and to end the roll-out of universal credit as it now is.

Most shockingly, the Chancellor has given no sign that he understands the scale of the climate emergency facing us and the urgency of the significant Government response that is needed. He mentions the climate but allocates minuscule amounts of funding to address an existential threat to our society. I hope that in the next few weeks Members will remember those who got no comfort from today’s announcements, if the Government push ahead with their plans for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy, as is widely rumoured. I hope that Members will remember all those individuals and services that were deemed too unimportant by the Chancellor to address today. I tell him that whenever that election comes—in any election campaign—he can be sure that the Labour party will remind those people and the voters what nine years of austerity have done to them, and of today’s failure to act. The opportunity was there today really to end austerity—to start reversing austerity—and to give people some hope. What a missed opportunity.

We remember when we were told that there was no alternative, and that there was no money. We all know the lines—we have heard them enough times. They were not true then and they are not true now. The majority of economists have always agreed that there was another approach that the Government could have taken, rather than austerity, and we always argued—and we were right—that austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity. As recently as March, the Conservatives ploughed on, saying that there was no alternative. Look at them now suddenly proclaiming an end to austerity—after 125,000 excess deaths as a result, after £100 billion has been taken out of the economy, and after the worst decade for wage growth since the 19th century—just because there may be an election around the corner. After all that, to deliver a pathetic sum to spending Departments, who are on their knees at the moment, is just adding insult to injury.

This is a Government that is not just callous and uncaring, but hypocritical as well. This is not a Government—it is a racket. They pretend to end austerity when they do nothing of the sort. They pretend to plan ahead while they plot a no-deal Brexit that would devastate parts of our economy. They are a Chancellor and a Prime Minister, as my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday, with no mandate, no morals and no majority. They are trying to distract us from the crumbling public services and stagnating wages that they have created after a decade in charge. It is almost as if they forget they have been in government for nine years. They seek to fool the British public with fantasy promises of a Brexit deal that they knew they could not deliver and they were not even trying to negotiate. This short-lived Government will go down in history for its unique combination of right-wing extremism and bumbling incompetence. This is a Government that betrays the people it is meant to serve—a Government that will never be forgiven, but will soon be forgotten.