Following the statement that we just heard from my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, I would like to start my remarks on the resumption of the Budget debate by expressing my gratitude to the Chancellor for making it clear last week that the Government will make available whatever resources are needed to meet the coronavirus threat to our country. It was mostly addressed in terms of making funds available for the health service to ensure that it has the staff and equipment that it needs.
In response to the statement, I am among a number of Members who are concerned about the impact on businesses in our constituencies. I represent a coastal constituency. As we move into the Easter and early summer season, the ability of a visitor economy to make money from hotel trade, hospitality and events—let alone bars, restaurants and cafés—is incredibly important. The Folkestone Harbour Arm is a major seasonal visitor attraction. If the official public health advice is that these centres of social interaction should be avoided for the foreseeable future, there is a legitimate question about how those businesses will be compensated for their loss of earnings, otherwise we may see a great number of those businesses close, with no option to remain open. I understand that the Secretary of State has just made an important statement, and there are many further questions to be asked, but I echo the questions raised by a number of Members.
Some Members referenced the airline industry. I would also reference other key industries. Saga is a major business in my constituency—I see the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, nodding; as an old boy of the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone, he knows well the importance of Saga to the local economy. Saga has many strings to its bow as a business, but cruises and servicing the over-50s economy are a major part of its business. If areas of the economy such as this will effectively be closed down for an indefinite period, businesses need to ensure that they can communicate with their staff and make plans effectively. As the Chancellor set out in his statement last week, we want to ensure that viable businesses can ride through this extraordinary event; that is so important.
As I said in my question to the Secretary of State, we should look at the information that the public have access to. They need clear, accurate and reliable information, and people who seek to use social media to spread malicious disinformation with the particular purpose of undermining public health should be in a position where they have committed an offence. Under the emergency powers in the Bill that the Government will publish later this week, we should make it an offence to spread misinformation about coronavirus with the intention of undermining public health. In Australia, similar laws were introduced in response to the Christchurch terrorist attack last year. Spain has looked at a similar response to disinformation and misinformation about coronavirus, and we should do the same.
I want to briefly touch on a couple of other important aspects of the Budget that are not directly related to coronavirus. I particularly want to mention the Government’s commitment to support affordable housing, both to rent and buy. In my constituency, we have a major new garden town scheme, which is being driven forward by Folkestone and Hythe District Council and supported by Homes England. The council owns much of the land that has been put into the scheme. This garden town proposal could deliver 8,000 new homes for my constituency over the next 30 years. Folkestone College is a centre of excellence for construction industry skills, so local people can be trained in the jobs that will be made available as a consequence of building those homes.
I welcome the money that the Government have pledged to support the construction and provision of more affordable homes through Homes England. I ask the Government to do all they can to work with local authorities that are supporting and taking forward garden town proposals. My district council tells me that the planning process is still very long, even when there is an early indication of support for the scheme from the local authority. There is an urgent need to get these homes built as quickly as possible and to support whatever infrastructure is needed to make these communities viable and attractive to developers, so that they get involved in the schemes. I appreciate that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is not on the Treasury Bench, but I ask him to look at what extra housing infrastructure support and investment could be made available, in particular for the Otterpool Park scheme in Kent at junction 11 of the M20.
I welcome the additional money the Chancellor has made available to support rough sleeping initiatives. We have already seen some of that money on the frontline in Folkestone, supporting charities that work with homeless people. I would like to see more support for the Housing First scheme that is being piloted by various local authorities in Kent, which looks to get the most vulnerable people into accommodation first and then to identify and resolve the other needs they may have. That has proved a more effective strategy, but it does require more upfront investment. I hope the extra money the Government have brought forward can provide that.
I also welcome the additional money the Government have committed to creating 5G equivalent broadband for the UK. This is an essential technology for the future. When we look back at the support over the last decade for Broadband Delivery UK’s roll-out of superfast broadband, we see that it was a good initiative and got more homes connected quickly, but it was also probably the wrong technology. Fibre-based technology will be future-proof. Few of us could have predicted in 2010 what would be the ordinary data requirements of people using information technology and the internet in their homes today and to run their businesses. Therefore, we should back a technology that is similarly future-proof, and fibre equivalent and fibre to homes is that. It gives us the opportunity to roll out at speed 5G equivalent broadband, particularly in rural areas. It is right that the Government prioritise areas of delivery that are the hardest to reach and where the market is least likely to deliver. As was discussed in the House last week, it is particularly important that we look at alternative providers to Huawei and at companies that are not considered to be high-risk providers of future technology infrastructure, which is going to be so important for running all our economy.
This Budget is slightly different from others we have seen over the years. Suddenly, spending billions on industrial investment is not being mocked by the Conservatives, as it was when Labour pledged to do it just four months ago. So let me start with what is good about this Budget: hundreds of millions for carbon capture and storage and an indication that Teesside may well be one of the centres for a project. It would, however, be good for the Government to come forward with a statement confirming that Teesside will get a project. After all, it is better placed and more ready than anywhere else to help the Government to deliver the kind of project that can be world leading.
Members may know that I set up, and have been the chair of, the all-party group on carbon capture and storage for the past six years. I have met with Ministers. I think they were all convinced of the case, but nobody could get through to the Treasury. I have tabled questions, written letters, organised events, made interventions, given speeches and secured debates urging successive Governments to invest in carbon capture technology and sites. I have campaigned vigorously for carbon capture to be taken seriously by politicians. Like those in the industry, I was devastated when, in 2015, the then Chancellor, George Osborne—without warning—pulled more than £900 million of funding, halting at a stroke two major projects instantaneously. It was a bad day for the industry and there is some way to go to make up that lost time. I only hope the funding this time will see the cash actually spent before the Chancellor thinks it would be easy pickings for a future cut.
I am really grateful that we are now seeing progress and it appears that we may even be seeing some infrastructure benefits for the Tees valley too, but some of the announcements by the Tees Mayor seem a little wide of the mark. After the Budget, he claimed to have delivered a free port for the Tees, yet there is no mention of it in the Red Book and, as I understand it, there has been no announcement from the Government. Perhaps the Minister can confirm the Mayor’s claim. The same Mayor has also claimed that he secured £80 million for Darlington station. Perhaps the Minister can tell me where I can find that cash in the Red Book or even in the rail network enhancement programme. It is simply not there, so will the Government confirm that the £80 million is actually ready to spend in Darlington?
After 10 years of austerity and a severe lack of ambition, the Budget comes nowhere near to making up for past cuts. The Chancellor was throwing money around like confetti, but, with no real tax increases and a downturn in the economy, it begs the question: where is the cash coming from? Perhaps he has not had time to cost it yet; we always cost our Budgets.
The Budget has done nothing for the chemical industries on Teesside, where companies are still nervous, as there is no provision for the increased costs these firms will face due to the uncertainty over the REACH regulations. I appreciate Ministers taking the time to meet me and organisations concerned about future regulations, but it is now time for them to step up and take the action the chemical industries are asking them to take to secure the future of their businesses.
It is not just industry that is worried and under pressure; our public services are, too. I hope that this country pulls through this crisis and that the Government start to truly recognise the impact that health cuts can have because, by the time the crisis comes around, it is too late to restore what has been cut overnight. Perhaps the shortage of ventilators is one of the best examples of the resources in the NHS falling short, and it is in the lives of people that we will pay the price. It is in areas such as mine, where some wards are among those with the lowest life expectancy in the country, that people will be most vulnerable to the coronavirus. As I said in my intervention, I was grateful to the Minister for Health for listening to the case for a new hospital in Stockton—a 21st-century hospital—to address the huge health issues in my community. Since the new hospital was cancelled by the then Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2010, I have spoken about the need for it in every single Budget debate since. I am pleased that at last we have taken even a tiny step forward, so I thank the Minister.
However, it is not just about hospitals; as others have said, this Budget has also failed to deliver on social care. In the context of our current situation, in which covid-19 is more dangerous for older people, this seems to be an even more severe mistake. What is happening when careworkers come down ill, are self-isolating, at best, and older people in need of those carers are left alone? How are the Government prepared for this particular part of the crisis? Simply put, what the Budget has done is to highlight the inadequacy of our welfare state. It has proven that our safety net is not fit for purpose. We should not simply do and be better now that we are facing a crisis. If we can make procedures and processes more quickly and streamline now, there is no reason why that could not have happened before.
I continue to be concerned about the lack of action this Government have taken for those on lower incomes. I agree with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers when it says that the Budget does not address working family poverty. This was the year by which child poverty was due to have been eradicated, and the lack of mention of that in the Budget speech just proves that it is not on the Chancellor’s radar. According to the North East Child Poverty Commission, almost 210,000 children in the north-east are growing up poor. The Budget did nothing for them. I also back the call from USDAW—I am not a member of the trade union—for the two-child limit to be scrapped and the five-week wait period for universal credit to be shortened. That has been echoed by Macmillan Cancer Support. Many people with cancer have to give up work directly because of their illness and it is unacceptable that they have to wait five weeks for their initial payment. It is inhumane and it should never have been part of Government policy.
Inequality in our country continues to grow, yet we see no real intent from the Government to close the gap and it is the people in areas such as mine that will lose out once again. That is why our new hospital is so important. I do not feel that the Budget is fit to address the problems we face as a society, and certainly not on Teesside.
Inevitably, the debate tonight has been overshadowed by the statement we have heard. This should be a moment for us all to reflect on the huge challenge we face, and above all, on the health of our nation. I particularly pay tribute to the staff at Epsom Hospital in my constituency, who are already working hard and dealing with the most challenging of situations, but also with the tragic loss of two lives in the last few days. This team of people constantly work hard for our community and face enormous challenges, and I pay enormous tribute to them. Indeed, I pay tribute to all of the health service workers who serve my constituency in the primary care sector and in the community care sector. We are going to owe those people an awful lot in the weeks ahead.
I also pay tribute to the teams of volunteers coming forward in my constituency and adjoining areas to offer support in particular to the elderly, who are going to face a very difficult few weeks, as we heard from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care this afternoon. I pay tribute particularly to Paul Baker, a man from just down the road in the constituency of my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford. In the last four or five days, he has built a team of volunteers to help deliver support to the elderly as they need it in the coming weeks, and I fear a lot of support and help is going to be needed. We are going to owe an awful lot to the health service workers and to the volunteers who will be, and indeed are already, making a difference in the weeks ahead.
However, this is a Budget debate and it is a debate about our economy. The other group we must be very mindful of today are the self-employed and those who run small businesses. They were already facing a tough enough situation in the last few days, but for them today’s announcement will have come as a bucket of the proverbial. Their lives will be immensely difficult. The Budget contained a number of important provisions that I strongly welcome, such as measures on business rates, or additional support to be channelled through local authorities. There has been a lot of debate about whether we should get rid of or continue the fuel duty freeze, but right now, keeping fuel prices as low as possible is enormously important to this country’s self-employed, as they seek to keep their businesses afloat in the weeks ahead. It is inevitable that the Treasury and Chancellor will have to consider further measures to support those groups.
There are families tonight whose income comes entirely from self-employment, and they are asking how they will pay the bills in the weeks and months ahead. I echo those who say that we must consider every possible way to provide support for those people as we go forward. This is a critical moment for our nation and economy, and I welcome the fact that the Chancellor has chosen to make a large injection of cash into the economy, and to back that up with a huge investment programme for the years ahead. We will need all that to get through the challenges we now face, and we must take innovative steps to help those most affected. Above all, we must get this country, and our economy, through this. We must save lives, ensure that we rebuild prosperity for the future, and move on from what I fear will be a difficult time in our history.
Alongside that we must meet other challenges. I welcome measures in the Budget that encourage motorists to move away from conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, as well as incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. I hope that we also build hydrogen into the mix for the future, as we will need it. Electric traction does not yet work for heavier vehicles, and hydrogen is an important part of that future. I also add a caveat. There is a lot of talk about going as fast as we possibly can to make the transition to a greener vehicle fleet, and I endorse that ambition. However, we can go only as fast as the technology will allow us, and if we seek to go faster, we will end up doing damage to our society and economy. We cannot transform technology any faster than it is available to be transformed, and particularly in the wake of the current situation, we must also protect the future jobs of those who work in the automotive sector.
It was right for the Budget to postpone the reduction in corporation tax and put that money into the health service, and today’s statement has shown how important it is for the health service to receive that additional resource—and more—in the weeks ahead. We must also remember the benefits of being a low-tax economy. I was employment Minister in 2010 when unemployment was 2.6 million and rising. A decade later, unemployment is a fraction of what it was then, and all through those years I was convinced that one reason for that reduction was because we built a highly competitive tax regime for business, and for investors who sought to come to this country. When we have come through the current troubles and set our economy back on a path to the future, we should not forget that lesson. If we are a competitive place to do business, that means jobs and prosperity for our people, and we will keep unemployment low.
I regard the reduction in unemployment as one of this Government’s great achievements of the past 10 years, and despite the turbulent times that lie ahead, I want to see that achievement solidified for the future. We will do that by ensuring that this country is a great place to do business in, and we must not lose track of that as we take what might be difficult decisions in the weeks and months ahead.
Above all else, this Budget was a stepping stone towards dealing with the challenges we face. I have no doubt that more measures will need to be taken—we have seen the central banks step forward to inject capital into the economy as support for businesses and the rest—and I suspect we will have to do more. Above all, we must do enough to protect the lives of our people, and put this country back on the path to prosperity after a difficult period economically. The Budget was a step in the right direction, but we have big challenges ahead, and we must all live up to them.
Last week’s Budget will double Government borrowing, and it is proof that the Government’s austerity agenda, which brought unnecessary pain and suffering to millions, was a failure. Austerity has inflicted untold damages on our public services, and most obviously on our health service, which in 2010 had the highest patient satisfaction levels on record. It is painful to see what has been done to the police service, the fire service, the welfare state, the probation service, courts, the health service, education, and libraries—I could go on. All those ideologically driven cuts to our social fabric were in response to a worldwide banking crash for which Joe Public paid the price, yet now the public are supposed to cheer when the Government try to repair some of the damage that they have done, by raising council tax precepts to replace some of the police officers we have lost. Should the public now be grateful that the NHS can have anything it wants, after nearly a decade of sustained and deliberate under-investment that has brought the service and its staff to their knees?
Every person in the UK is now counting on the NHS to be there for them when this Government were not there for it. Money cannot fill the 100,000 workforce vacancies, including 43,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors, who we need right now. Despite the big spending announcements, austerity is not over for most public services, and according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, day-to-day spending per person will remain almost a fifth lower than it was in 2010, through to the middle of the current decade.
The £76 billion rise in overall spending by 2023-24 will be paid for largely by borrowing, paving the way for soaring debt and probable tax rises, particularly if the economy takes a significant hit from coronavirus and a disorderly Brexit. The Budget revealed just how weak the UK economy was even before coronavirus. Brexit has already made the economy 2% smaller than it would otherwise have been, and we are still in the transition period, which for now is protecting us from the economic shock. After a decade of Tory-led Governments, the NHS and our social care sector are chronically under-funded, under-resourced and under-staffed, just at the moment we need them most.
The substantial additional infrastructure investment that the Chancellor announced is welcome, but there are huge question marks over the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change, and the long-promised plan to fix the crisis in social care has been ignored again. I hope that the Prime Minister’s promise from the steps of Downing Street, to
“fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve” has not been forgotten. It has now been six months, and the promised plan is nowhere to be seen. It is astonishing that social care has been ignored again in this Budget, and crushing for people with dementia. Every day we hear new stories of people with dementia who are trapped in unacceptable conditions, or of families who are struggling to cover the cost of dementia care. Cross-party talks must produce a long-term, sustainable solution for social care that delivers quality care, but that must also be backed by investment to keep the system afloat.
The spending measures, alongside last week’s cuts to interest rates, may keep us out of recession for the immediate future, but it is difficult to feel reassured that our economy is strong enough to cope with the unknown impact of coronavirus, at the same time as our plans for leaving the EU are still so uncertain. Even if the economy escapes a sustained hit from coronavirus or Brexit, the Budget leaves day-to-day spending on public services other than health some 14% lower per person in 2024-25 than it was when the Conservatives kicked off their austerity programme in 2010.
The Budget continued the Tory power grab, moving control of funding from local government to central Government. It is time local government had more of a say in how funding is spent in communities, rather than locally run services such as the police, schools and transportation having to go cap in hand to central Government through a flawed bidding system. The public sector does not belong to Boris Johnson; it belongs to the public. The Government would do well to remember that.
I particularly welcome the commitments in the Budget to delivering on our manifesto commitments, which, certainly in Lincolnshire, were overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate. It was a pleasure earlier today to hear the maiden speech of my immediate neighbour, my hon. Friend Lia Nici, who I am sure will make a considerable contribution to debate in the coming years.
As I said, the debate is overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis. On Friday, I visited my local hospital—Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby—for one of my regular updates from the senior management and medical professionals. I pay tribute to them for the work they do, not just in the current crisis but throughout the year. The hospital is approaching 40 years old, and it will need considerable capital investment in the medium term if it is to sustain its work at acceptable levels. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to the staff there for the work they are doing to respond to the present crisis.
Police funding, in particular, has been widely welcomed by my constituents. In recent years, Humberside police has managed to increase its numbers by more than 200, and there are a further 97 pending in the next phase. Like constituents up and down the country, my residents in Cleethorpes want to see visible policing. I was in discussion with the superintendent only last week, and I received assurances that that will be the case. I want in particular to mention the retail trade, which it is fair to say has been badly scarred by the £200 limit with respect to shoplifting. I am delighted that my local force does not take that as written in stone but uses some discretion in the way it meets that challenge. I hope that is taken on board.
I also met the principal of Franklin College on Friday. It is important that we have additional funding for that further education college in my area of northern Lincolnshire, and I am happy to say that the principal was well pleased with the way things are moving.
Of course, public services are not all provided by the public sector; we need private sector involvement to deliver some of our essential services. The area I represent was designated by the Government as the first town deal area, and I hope investment in the Greater Grimsby town deal continues. Only 10 days ago, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was in north-east Lincolnshire and announced another £3.5 million boost for the town deal, which is very welcome. I also welcome the renewed enthusiasm among councils throughout Lincolnshire to revisit the Lincolnshire devolution deal, which unfortunately did not materialise a couple of years ago. The area will be heavily dependent on the offshore renewables sector, and I am delighted that Government support for that continues.
Good transport connections are essential to all local economies. I have campaigned for many years for the restoration of the direct train service between Grimsby, Cleethorpes and London King’s Cross. Only two or three weeks ago, along with neighbouring MPs, I met the London North Eastern Railway chief. I am pleased that LNER is prepared to operate a service if the Government tell it to. That needs no capital investment; it is one of those easy wins that can be achieved. I hope the Minister ensures that his colleague the Secretary of State hears my renewed plea.
The hit that the global economy will take over the next year or two as a result of the current crisis is going to reverberate throughout our country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned, it would help my area considerably if Immingham and Grimsby ports were given free port status. Carbon capture and storage, which was mentioned a few minutes ago by Alex Cunningham, will also play a vital part in the economy of northern Lincolnshire.
The resort of Cleethorpes is doing reasonably well, but of course it will take a significant hit—particularly to small businesses, such as bed and breakfasts, guest houses and small hotels, and the leisure sector—as a result of the current crisis. I echo colleagues’ requests for Ministers to ensure that those small businesses are taken note of as we continue to react to the current circumstances. I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement in respect of business rates, which certainly will help, but, inevitably, more measures will be needed. I will conclude at that point and give an extra 33 seconds to someone else.
I thank Martin Vickers for his generosity in giving me those 33 seconds.
It is becoming clear that this will be the first Budget of this financial year. I do not mean that as any criticism of those on the Treasury Bench, but it is clear that events are moving fast. The Government will want to introduce emergency legislation and may seek emergency powers, and it is clear that even the Budget announced last week has already been overtaken by events. However, let me make couple of remarks about it.
First, we will have a wider debate about the loan charge on Thursday, but I was disappointed that there were no more concessions for those caught up in that scandal. It amazes me that people who were caught up in it, rather than those directly responsible for it, are being chased for money. I hope the Government will also be a bit more specific about the measures they want to introduce to tackle the promotion of tax avoidance. I am not the only Member who is concerned about the reduction in staff at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over the past 10 years.
Secondly, the Government committed during the election campaign to maintaining the free TV licence. Given that we are in a period where the main source of information for many people, particularly the elderly and those who live on their own, is television, the Government need to move quickly to take back control of that power from the BBC and give it back to the Department for Work and Pensions and maintain the free TV licence. Over the next few weeks and months, elderly people will need that box in the corner of their living room to get vital information on tackling coronavirus.
The Conservatives have already changed their promise on that. In the 2017 manifesto, they promised to keep the free TV licence. Now they are promising to keep it as long as everybody else pays for it. Surely that is a bit like saying the Government will provide free bus fares for everybody, as long as the bus companies pay for them?
Yes, I agree. My hon. Friend’s point is well made.
There are a number of challenges that the Government now face. I am not the only Member over the past few days who has had constituents contact them to say they have already seen their hours reduced and shifts cancelled. They are being advised by employers that there will be no work for them, as people are being discouraged from going into nightclubs, bars and restaurants. The work in this sector is traditionally low paid and precarious. I hope the Government will now look at the models introduced by Denmark and Norway to address those issues, and sit down with trade unions and business to come up with a financial model that ensures wages are maintained for those who are low paid and in precarious work, including those on zero-hour contracts. In particular, I hope the Government are considering, as Norway has done, issues relating to the self-employed and carers.
On statutory sick pay, I have been contacted by constituents who are alarmed that some employers, including some large multinational employers, do not pay company sick pay from day one. Some pay it on day four and some pay it on day seven, leaving the state to pick up the tab. Because of the different schemes by different employers, some individuals will find themselves receiving only statutory sick pay from day one, which is not topped up by employers and their particular sick schemes. That will lead to a situation where some people—I am sure I am not the only Member to hear this—feel they will have to make a choice between public health and poverty, and their wages. We really need to look at the rate of statutory sick pay. If there was a European league table, the UK would be either in the relegation zone or not too far away from it. The statutory sick pay of other European countries far outstrips what is on offer in the United Kingdom.
On universal credit, we need to move away from an arrears-based system. The five-week wait, which other hon. Members have mentioned, needs to go now. The first payment should be the first payment. The DWP receives £50 million a month in advances returned from claimants. How much does that cost the Department to administrate and how much time are DWP staff taking on that when they could be processing online journals and other claims? I agree with hon. Members that there should be no evictions for rent arrears during this period and that there should be no sanctions.
I want to end by saying that the Treasury will now need to consider, over the next few days and weeks, whether there should be a people’s bailout. The amount of money the state had to spend on the bankers’ bailout will probably be similar to what it may have to spend to alleviate poverty and to get through the current crisis in the weeks ahead.
This was undoubtedly a serious Budget for serious times and it was undoubtedly right that the top priority for the Chancellor was confronting coronavirus. Our public services are all crucial to that effort, but clearly it is the NHS that is at the forefront of our nation’s battle to tackle covid-19. I wholeheartedly welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to spend whatever is necessary on the health service for this critical moment.
In my constituency, Stoke Mandeville Hospital is caring for a number of patients with coronavirus. I pay tribute to the doctors, nurses and all the other health workers, there and around the country, who are working tirelessly to help those affected by this dreadful virus. Stoke Mandeville Hospital is best known for its world-renowned expertise in treating spinal injuries. I hope the increase in general funding for the NHS, which is being delivered by this Government, will enable the hospital to receive the resources necessary for both spinal units and care for all other patients.
Healthcare does not always come in a hospital or out of a medicine bottle. The village of Wendover in my constituency is home to the Lindengate charity, which uses horticulture as therapy for people who have had mental health crises or are suffering from dementia. As the NHS considers new ways to help patients, including social prescribing, I believe that Lindengate provides food for thought. It provides a means of achieving health benefits directly from our rural environment that can be considerably cheaper than other treatments. It is, therefore, hopefully appealing to colleagues in the Treasury. Public services are not successful purely because of the amount of money provided by central Government. Their success stems primarily from the dedicated public servants who work to deliver them. At their best, public services are a combination of central and local government working in tandem towards the same aims, as we see in the fight against covid-19.
That was particularly the case with what proved to be the highlight of the Budget for Aylesbury: confirmation that the town’s bid for money from the housing infrastructure fund had been approved. The £170-million award was the result of a concerted effort by local and national politicians and officials. Staff and councillors from Aylesbury Vale District Council and Buckinghamshire County Council worked with my predecessor David Lidington and his team to prepare a thorough, comprehensive and, thankfully, compelling bid. I was pleased to pick up the ball and carry it over the line with support from Ministers at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury.
The area of public service that holds particular interest for me is the criminal justice system. I declare an interest as the former magistrate member of the Sentencing Council and former non-executive director of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. HMPPS will face particular challenges from covid-19 but, from experience, I know that its excellent staff will rise to the task, as they always do.
The perspective of the victim should be the starting point for every part of the criminal justice system. I was delighted by the Budget commitment of an additional £15 million for services to support victims of crime, but that is just the beginning of the reforms that we need to make. We must be braver in looking for new ways to tackle offending behaviour.
One of the highlights of my time at HMPPS was being part of the judging panel for innovation awards. There were some excellent ideas, but there is scope to do much more. Technology can undoubtedly play a significant role. Tags to monitor alcohol abstinence have just been introduced, and other tags use GPS to enforce exclusion zones, which strengthens supervision and better protects victims. It is excellent news that that sort of technology will benefit from the £68.5 million devoted to tougher community orders in the Budget. We must be bold and imaginative in finding other new ways to harness technology in the range of sentences we impose. Ultimately, with all the appropriate safeguards in place, we could avoid the need for conventional prisons for some offenders.
I hope that the Budget’s financial commitments will herald greater funding in our prison and probation systems in subsequent fiscal events this year. They may not be glamorous, but crime costs the UK an estimated £60 billion a year, so success can bring savings. The Budget makes welcome investment in the criminal justice system, our infrastructure and our health service. It promises all the resources necessary to fight coronavirus. It is therefore a Budget that I am proud to support.
This is not the speech I expected to give when we heard the Budget, but events have overtaken us. Although I am sure that our country will survive, I am concerned that without more urgent action from the Government, the state that it is in when we have overcome the virus might make it a place where none of us wish to be.
The Government need to clearly understand that there will be a price. They will pay, but the choice is how they will pay. Will they pay upfront and enable people, including the self-employed, to have the statutory sick pay they need? Will they look at universal basic income? Will they ensure that everybody has enough money to live? Will they pay to support all local businesses adequately—small, medium and large—to stop our economy collapsing? Or, alternatively, will they pay at the end, when the economy has collapsed and our country is on its knees, so that when we recover from the virus we cannot get back on our feet? There will be a price and a payment to be made. The Government should consider making that payment now to support our economy and individuals, rather than paying the price at the end.
We need to think about the long term. If we are to adjust to life under coronavirus, we need to look at many different things, such as providing free internet for people in this country, especially the children who are expected to do their school work at home—how can they do that if they do not have equipment to work on or access to free wi-fi? We need to look at feeding children through free school meals programmes. We need to look at giving mental health support to adults who are self-isolating for three or four months. The Government could run a national advertising campaign on TV and radio to signpost adults to the mental health support that is out there. A Facebook coronavirus support group that has gained nearly 5,000 members in just a few hours asks whether the Government could introduce restrictions on the number of items that people buy from supermarkets. We should stop bulk-buying, introduce fairness for everybody and make things equal. We should give the vulnerable and elderly time to shop on their own at the beginning of the day.
There are many people who want to support the community, and that is to be championed; it is something that each and every one of us can feel proud of. However, I sound a slight note of caution. It would be very useful if the Government looked at introducing urgent Disclosure and Barring Service checks on volunteers, so that we can safeguard our most vulnerable people. There could be a way of co-ordinating national volunteers and introducing a very light check on some of these people—for example, those offering to collect money from the elderly and do their shopping.
The Government could also look at supporting and propping up charities such as Samaritans, to make sure that people have the support that they need. We could use Government resources to advertise those charities to everybody in the community through a national campaign.
There should be emergency food supplies for food banks. The food banks have run out of money. Where do people go when they have no food? The food bank. Where do they go when the food bank has no food? Nowhere. The Government could look at providing emergency food parcels to the food banks, so that the homeless on our streets are not just left there to die with nothing. At the moment, the cupboards are well and truly empty.
The self-employed need a lot more support. A taxi driver said to me, “Where am I going to get my business from if everybody’s at home, and no one is going to the pubs or restaurants? What happens to me?” A driving instructor also contacted me. No one will be leaving the house; they will not be looking to him for lessons. Where is the support for those people? They have worked all their life, and may indeed have voted Conservative at the last election. They are looking to the Government and feeling let down. They have been told all along, “Work hard and try hard, and you will do well.” Now their business is being ripped out from beneath them by a Government who are not listening to their cries for support.
What is our purpose in being here? I see mine as being to leave the world in a better state than it was when I arrived here. This is a once-in-a-generation test, and we are being judged—as a country, as individuals, and as a Parliament. I urge the Government to make the right choices, because our country is counting on us, and we cannot fail it.
I think that we can all agree that this was not an ordinary Budget; it was the Budget that was called for in extraordinary times. I welcome it, as I am sure many people across the country do. The covid-19 virus presents us with a situation that is incomparable to anything in recent generations. These are challenging times, and as my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary reminded us, we will all need to make sacrifices. I commend my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the funding boost that he has given the national health service at this crucial time. He has shown that the health of the nation will always be the top priority, through extra spending to help us through this difficult period.
I make an appeal to all Members across the House. We can see and hear that our constituents are anxious about the future. It is incumbent on all of us to work together in the national interest; these are not issues to be politicised. We recognise the challenge ahead, and the only way that we will get through this is together. I commend those who have already been working collaboratively across the House.
I was particularly pleased by the Budget’s focus on helping the small and medium-sized sector, for I believe that the public and private sectors work best in balanced symbiosis. They need each other, and the Budget recognises that. In a former life, I was a businessman, and I represented thousands of businesses in the west midlands. As a chartered accountant, I have built my career on working for SMEs. The people I helped were entrepreneurs—small business owners who, with their hard work and enterprising spirit, created jobs and stimulated our economy. They often had tight margins and took a great deal of personal risk.
I am proud of the small businesses and entrepreneurs in my region, but things are not always easy for them, and when faced with a crisis such as the one before us, many small businesses will find the additional burden unbearable. That is why I was so pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Chancellor launch new measures last week, which I know from conversations with the business community have provided a lot of much needed reassurance and relief. Under those measures, businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim two weeks of statutory sick pay for employees who are unable to work because of coronavirus. We also welcome the rates relief for the hospitality sector.
The Government recognise that employers want to do the right thing and give staff the time that they require, and small businesses should not be punished for that. However, I ask those in the insurance industry, from whom I repeatedly hear nothing, to accept covid-19 as a recognised disease. While there may be a short-term cost, there is no point in their protecting short-term gains if they will lose customers in the medium term. I implore them to do the right thing, and to protect those businesses as much as possible.
Finally, let me record my thanks to, and pride in, our public services during this time of national crisis. They all provide a great service every single day, and it is our job to ensure that their sacrifices never go unnoticed. I am sure everyone in the House will agree that we stand by them, and do so proudly.
Uncharacteristically, I congratulate the Chancellor on his Budget: a Budget that admits the immoral failure of Tory austerity. The Tories’ decade of cuts has been savage, and, while I acknowledge that the Budget is a step in the right direction, it will not undo the damage done to our communities by austerity.
Let us not get carried away by the Tories’ apparent budget U-turn; let us check the small print. The Chancellor was right to promise that
“whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus, it will get.”—[Official Report,
The coronavirus pandemic is changing rapidly and could be the greatest challenge in a generation, but there are some glaring omissions from the Budget, which, if unaddressed, will repeat austerity’s failings.
Local councils are responsible for public health, and find themselves on the front line fighting coronavirus. Public health plays a huge role in preventing ill health, protecting the population and promoting education through communication, but with the new financial year for councils a fortnight away, there is still no mention of the public health grant. The Chancellor managed to find £500 million a year for potholes but said nothing about public health, and there has been an £850 million real-terms cut in public health funding. The Health Foundation predicts that an annual injection of £3.2 billion is needed to reverse Government cuts.
In my constituency, we have an endemic problem with public health funding. Earlier this month, my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) and I wrote to the Prime Minister to point out that public health grant calculations do not take measures of need and deprivation into account. Enfield is the ninth most deprived borough nationally. Even before coronavirus hit, the public health needs were complex and serious, yet Enfield receives £48 per head for public health whereas nearby Islington receives £104, more than double that amount. This simply feels like a postcode lottery. It is immoral to allow health inequalities to deepen in one of the poorest boroughs when fair funding could reverse the process.
That brings me to the second glaring omission, social care. We know that older populations and those with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable to this cruel virus, but it is also projected that the majority will recover. However, to be discharged after a hospital stay, many vulnerable people will rely on social care infrastructure, and there is a real danger that people will continue to be stuck in hospital. Let us take the example of my constituent’s mother. Despite being medically fit for discharge, she found herself unable to leave hospital for many weeks while waiting for a social care assessment. Once the assessment was done, there was a lack of appropriate social care, so she was stranded in hospital for an extra two months. That meant that a hospital bed needed by a sick person was being occupied by someone who did not need it. In November last year, one in three people up and down the country were waiting in hospitals for social care services.
The pandemic’s pressure on the NHS and the pressure on social care are intrinsically linked. An underfunded social care system only increases the pressure on the NHS when people cannot be discharged from hospital. The Chancellor should recognise that the social care system needs rebuilding. A situation that was unacceptable before coronavirus is now intolerable. We need immediate financial support to help adult social care services, keep vulnerable residents safe, and reduce pressure on the NHS. Public health must be properly funded, and historical injustices in funding must be urgently addressed.
To conclude, I welcome increased NHS funding, but I will not fall for the populist Budget hype. Other parts of the health and social care system have been neglected. Until the glaring omissions of funding for public health and social care are addressed, the Budget lacks substance. My constituents demand proper funding for our council, which is on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.
The speech that I intended to make has been somewhat overshadowed by what we heard in the House earlier. The gravity forecast in the Chancellor’s statement was rammed home with grim reality this evening and there is no doubt about the task that lies ahead.
I should like to begin by congratulating the Chancellor and his team on a Budget that was ambitious in scale and bold in reach—an orchestration of fiscal and monetary measures that truly delivered on our promise to the British people. It is right that the Budget placed at its core the small and medium enterprises that are this country’s beating heart. It is only by setting conditions in which those wealth-creating and job-creating industries can develop and flourish that we can fund the public services that are the subject of this debate. It is their support and survival that has become the great imperative for the Government.
There are three aspects to the funding of public services that I would like to address this evening. First, in relation to GP pension relief, when I was first elected and met the chair of my local clinical commissioning group, he told me that the issue of GP pensions was the most significant problem for health services in my constituency. The threat of unexpected tax bills had resulted in a spike in GPs taking early retirement and an increase in GPs reducing their practice sessions. He estimated that in real terms that was a reduction of 50 to 60 patient contacts a week per GP. I have raised the issue repeatedly in this House, and I know how welcome the change is. It will bolster frontline services at this critical time; increase the availability of GP appointments; enhance staff retention; and, most importantly, boost morale at a time at which our brilliant doctors need all the help they can get.
Secondly, in relation to school funding, I was glad to see clear confirmation of our manifesto commitment to minimum levels of per pupil funding at primary and secondary levels. However, I would like to say a few words in relation to the significant funds that have been ring-fenced for special educational needs provision—£780 million. What is critical is not how much is spent but how it is spent. Talking to heads in my constituency, three themes have emerged. First, it is critically important that some of that funding goes towards early diagnosis. I have heard how damaging, not just for the child but for other children in the class, it is for the child to linger too long without a proper identification of their needs. If the child is distracted or disruptive because they cannot access the curriculum, that affects the whole cohort.
Secondly, special educational needs funding should support smaller teaching groups, because the evidence is overwhelming that outcomes for children with special educational needs can be radically improved when focused support is provided. Thirdly, I would respectfully request that this spend is guaranteed or bettered in the years ahead. As of last year, the Government withdrew the disabled students allowance in further education institutions. I understand why they did so. None the less, that underscores the imperative for full and robust SEN support during a child’s formative school years.
Thirdly, in relation to public safety, I commend the funding that has been allocated to the trial of a domestic abuse court in England and Wales. I saw that as a clear reflection of the Government’s root-and-branch commitment to tackling this hidden and heinous crime, by focusing it in a single court, rather than via the twin tracks of the family and criminal divisions. As Liz Twist said in a Westminster Hall debate two weeks ago, that is a critical step for the protection of children, who are often innocent collateral. At present, there is often a paradoxical situation in which a perpetrator of domestic abuse is judged to be a violent criminal in the Crown court, but he is a “good enough Dad” in the family court when the issue of custody falls for consideration. That is not just a discrepancy—it is an injustice, and a domestic abuse court offers a joined-up forum to address it.
Staying on the subject of children, I hope that in the life of this Parliament the Government will go further and recognise the need to look at legal aid, particularly in the family court. As the outgoing head of the family division, Lord Justice Munby, put it last year:
“The fact is we have far more litigants in person than we did… Our court processes, our rules, our forms, our guidance, is woefully inadequate to enable litigants in person…to understand the system… That’s a current reality.”
I hope that this bold and reforming people’s Government will seek to address that issue.
These are turbulent and worrying times. I know that all Members of the House share my gratitude and admiration for the dedication of the doctors, nurses, carers, paramedics, police, teachers, shop workers, cleaners, delivery drivers, travel staff, charities, journalists and all those up and down our country who are keeping everyone as safe and informed as possible in the most testing circumstances.
This is no time for political point scoring, but the Budget is not just for the present; it is for the future, and it is imperative that it is analysed thoroughly. Some £500 million has been pledged to Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, but my local NHS proposes to use those vital funds to downgrade both Epsom and St Helier hospitals, reducing two A&Es to one and moving services away from the most deprived area and the people who need them most. St Helier hospital stands to lose an extraordinary 62% of beds and to become nothing more than a glorified walk-in centre. Under the spotlight of a pandemic, Members in every corner of the House can see clearly that we are in no position to be shrinking our acute health services. I welcome every penny committed to our NHS, but now more than ever we see the importance of the health service’s operating at full capacity when it is needed the most at St Helier hospital on its current site.
In unprecedented times, we operate day to day, but this Budget will outlive the coronavirus crisis. On Friday, as always, over half the constituents I met at my weekly advice surgery came to see me about a housing issue. I met Mrs L, who has been trapped in so-called temporary accommodation for two years, living in just one room and sharing a bed with her eight-year-old son, who suffers from epilepsy and autism, and her four-year-old daughter. I met a hard-working couple, Mr and Mrs N, who share a one-bedroom starter home with their two children, and their two friends and the friends’ two children. That is four adults and four children crammed into a one-bedroom starter home. I met Mrs B, who is facing eviction from her privately rented home, where her family have lived for the past 20 years. She cares for her disabled daughter and relies on universal credit, but an extraordinary £1,000 hike in the monthly rent is forcing the family out and into temporary accommodation. There should have been a Budget for these families.
I am used to reading warm promises but the Budget lacked even enough of those. According to the Budget papers, the Government have made good progress on boosting the housing supply. I must have been on a different planet for the past 10 years. There are 1.2 million families on social housing waiting lists across our country, but just 6,464 social homes were built in 2017-18, the second lowest number on record. At that rate, it would take 172 years to give everyone on the current waiting list a social rented home. Of course extra funds in the affordable homes programme are welcome, but only if affordable homes are truly affordable, which is not 80% of market value. What is more, it remains unclear exactly how much of the new settlement will be made available for social rented homes. In the light of that, I extend an invitation to any Minister, on any Friday, to attend my weekly advice surgery to see what hope they can offer to the increasing number of my constituents waiting for a place to call home.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We have heard many tributes today to NHS staff for the efforts they are putting in to protect us all. I wish to add my own tribute to them, particularly to the frontline staff, and to every person who works in the care sector. Indeed, I pay tribute to anybody, whether employed in the care sector or not, who may be supporting vulnerable people in the weeks to come. I can well imagine the armies of volunteers who will be stepping up to the mark in the weeks to come.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pledged in his first speech on the steps of Downing Street that making our streets safer was a key priority for this Government, and I could not agree more. All of us in the wider Dudley area welcome the new multi-million pound “super station” to be built by West Midlands police. I do not wish to sound ungrateful, but Dudley needs more than that. The recruitment of 20,000 new police officers across the UK is incredibly important. It is vital that we see a greater visible presence, particularly in areas such as Gornal and Sedgley in my constituency, to deter against violence and vehicle theft. In my experience, as a local elected member, I know that it is a police force that engages and embeds itself in local neighbourhood communities that achieves results, not brand new buildings, computer screens and form-filling. We need a police force that is a part of local communities, not one that is seen as remote and largely out of touch. Some officers are great at what they do, but we need more of them and they need more support themselves.
Dudley, as part of the west midlands, will see part of the £4.2 billion of investment in city regions, giving elected mayors more say over transport in their area. Like our great Mayor, Andy Street, I welcome this much needed investment. HS2 is welcome in Birmingham, but Dudley is in vital need of better roads and better public transport links to improve connectivity to the Birmingham interchange and indeed the wider midlands. Better transport connectivity opens up incredible opportunities for employment, study and local regeneration.
I am pleased that the Budget brings a £400 million funding boost over the next year to further education to go towards enhancing access to higher-quality courses, covering the cost of expensive but important courses, and ensuring that further education providers can continue to recruit high-quality teachers. As I mentioned at Prime Minister’s questions, and in my maiden speech, Dudley is to benefit from investment of £25 million as part of the towns fund, and the programme board, which incorporates all major stakeholders, has agreed to dedicate that to the creation of a university campus in Dudley.
Dudley College of Technology is doing amazing things, and I was blown away by the extraordinary offer it brings, in conjunction with local businesses, to the town and Dudley people. I hope Members here today will join me in congratulating the college on receiving a Queen’s anniversary prize for education just a few weeks ago. The prize is the highest national honour awarded in UK further and higher education, so the £25 million funding will build on an already outstanding college, providing essential skills to set learners on a pathway to success in jobs for the future. However, more will be needed to secure a great university presence in Dudley, and I am placing on the record not only my support for the scheme, but a request for support from relevant Departments so that we can truly “level up” by offering people world-class opportunities that come from world-class education.
Over the weekend, I got chatting to a shop assistant. She had a cough, so I asked whether she was able to stay at home until she felt better. She said no, because if she did not come in, her shifts would be cut, and if her shifts were cut, she would not be able to pay her rent. That is happening to working people all over the country and, as we stand on the precipice of a crisis unlike anything that has happened in my life, we needed a Budget that rose to the challenge, one that protected the working class from the worst effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
But the Budget does not do that. It does not even undo the damage of the past 10 years, during which the Conservative party has systematically weakened our defences, run down our public services, pushed down the most vulnerable and cut down the power of working people, leaving millions insecure and on the edge. Now, the NHS is on its knees. Doctors and nurses are already pushed to the limit. The social security system is already broken. As this crisis makes social care more urgent than ever, the Budget ignored it. The elderly, the sick and disabled are being abandoned.
This crisis exposes the worst features of our rotten system: price gougers exploit it to make fortunes at our expense; private hospitals charge the Government millions for the NHS to use their beds; workers face mass layoffs; and insecure jobs force people to work, even when they are ill. Let us be clear: a market approach to the outbreak will condemn working-class people to decimation.
It is not found in this Budget, but there is an alternative, and it can be seen in the example of Denmark, where the Government have negotiated a deal between trade unions and employers to protect wages and prevent lay-offs. That alternative approaches the crisis with solidarity, equality and a belief in collective action. It confronts the challenges that we face together, with a plan that puts people before profit and public health before private property.
This is what we could do: guarantee economic security for everyone; give statutory sick pay to all workers at a decent rate, so that no one has to choose between health and hardship; suspend rent, mortgage and utility payments, so that no one is evicted, has their home repossessed or has their services cut just because they are sick; support local authorities and food banks to distribute food, so that no one goes hungry; equip our NHS to deal with the emergency by bringing hospital cleaners in-house and paying them the real living wage—they are at the frontline and they deserve protection; requisition private hospitals, rent free, because our need is more important than their profits; and repurpose manufacturing plants, because our hospitals need ventilators.
In this crisis, we cannot let the vulnerable suffer the most. We need to prevent a catastrophe in immigration detention by releasing detainees before the virus rips through those inhumane cages; bring abandoned homes into public use to give homeless people a roof over their heads; scrap the universal credit five-week wait, uplift the payment, end the benefits cap and suspend all sanctions; and give social care the same funding promise as the NHS has.
This crisis brings into focus our interdependence. We need each other. The chief executive officer is nothing without the factory worker, the bus driver or the nurse. An injury to one is an injury to all, as the old trade union saying goes, and none of us are safe until all of us are safe. This is an urgent demand to the Government: protect the vulnerable, guarantee support to all workers and make those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share.
I wish to concentrate on two issues: education and justice.
On education, I have visited every school in my constituency at least once, and a consistent theme that has come out is that the Government have not been open about how schools should cover the changes that occur to them as a result of Government action, rather than things that they control themselves. An example is the minimum wage: it is not that schools disapprove of it, but they just do not know how to cover it. I was therefore glad to see that the budget for schools will increase to £52.2 billion, and I am glad that the increase in per-pupil amounts will go up to £3,750 for primary schools and £5,000 for secondary schools by 2020-21. However, that has still not answered the question that I have been asking Ministers for a long time: does it cover the full amount by which the schools say costs have been increased as a result of our actions as opposed to actions that they control themselves? I would like an answer on that.
Like my hon. Friend Laura Farris, I am troubled by the special educational needs and disability spending requirements. I am pleased to see that investment has increased by £7 billion, but I do hope that the SEND review, which I welcome fully, will be comprehensive and fully take into account all the things that influence the sector.
On the question of justice, as a member of the Justice Committee, we did a report on the state of prisons and their governance. We had two aims: first, to ensure that prisons were places of rehabilitation; and, secondly, to ensure that they dealt with a massive backlog of repairs. That is not to make prison a luxury, but to make it inhabitable. In other words, there is a distinction between safety and rehabilitation. There is no lesser emphasis on rehabilitation, and the experience that I have gained from visiting prisons, both in this country and on the continent, has shown that rehabilitation is something that can work, and work effectively. I am fully aware of the £2.5 billion to transform the prison estate and provide 80,000 new places, but the concentration should not be on new places alone. The concentration should also be on dilapidated and decrepit prisons.
The estimate that we made in the Justice Committee was that there was a spending backlog of £900 million in the Prison Service to make prisons fit for human habitation. Against that, the £150 million that the Government have put forward seems relatively insignificant. I ask the Government to comment on that and on how we will address the £900 million that we have identified as the correct spending.
Finally, we should give the governors power. They should have complete control over how they deal with spending in their prisons, so that they are able to make sure that prisons are fit for living, because that will increase both the rehabilitation effects of prison and also their good effects on the people and on their future.
Of the many learning points from the current coronavirus crisis, one stands out, which is that, in a crisis, people turn to the Government. Over the past 10 years, the capacity of the state to respond to crises has been deeply weakened by the funding decisions made for our public services, and it is a position that the Budget has left essentially unchanged. Capital spending is welcome, but, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, the revenue position is a completely different picture. Across the public sector as a whole, real-terms spending per person will remain about 8% below 2010 levels in the next financial year. We will pay the price for that, because we are facing this crisis with an NHS that is already stretched to the limit. Its resilience is corroded, and it has too little spare capacity. We had the warning signs—regular winter crises, patient stacked up in corridors—but not enough was done about them.
Beyond the NHS, the crisis in social care, which many Members have referred to, has clearly been deepening—not addressed but made worse by the disproportionate cuts faced by local government. Councils such as Sheffield have lost more than half their funding from central Government over the past 10 years.
On his accession to the job he currently holds, the Prime Minister said:
“And so I am announcing now—on the steps of Downing Street—that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared”.
He might have even used the words “oven ready”. Eight months on, it is clear that he never had a plan and his Budget does not have a plan.
I would like to raise a different point now, because while I welcome the measures in the Budget to support small businesses through the coronavirus crisis, they do not go far enough. Steve and Sara contacted me over the weekend. They run the popular Harland Café in my constituency—one of hundreds of cafés, bars and restaurants that employ thousands of people. They were worried then about the future of their business, and that was before the Government’s decision today—not telling them to close, but telling people not to go through their doors, hanging them out to dry without clarity and without the opportunity to draw on business continuity insurance. The Health Secretary was unable to answer the questions on those issues a short while ago, or on the other help that the hospitality sector will need. I do hope that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, when he winds up, will be able to go further, because businesses such as Steve and Sara’s, and thousands more across the country, are on the line.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of scale are our universities, which are key to the economy in Sheffield. We can already anticipate the impact of the coronavirus on their income. We have 15,000 international students between our two universities, worth over £210 million a year to the local economy. More than 7,000 are from China. Many of those planning to come this year will not be able to. If we lose, say, half of them, our two universities could lose £50 million in fees. Across the country, a 50% reduction in international students starting in September could produce a loss of £1.9 billion. Nobody has commented on that, so will the Economic Secretary also say what plans the Government have to support our universities?
This was a great Budget for the NHS, but a week is indeed a long time in politics. North Devon District Hospital is the UK’s most remote mainland hospital and is unavoidably small. Our population is significantly older than the UK average, with more than a quarter of people being over 65, versus just 18% nationally. North Devon’s population reflects how the UK will look in about 20 years’ time, so getting our healthcare right is an essential blueprint for other regions during this crisis and in the future, and it is important to recognise how our solutions may differ from those elsewhere in the UK. We are delighted to be flagged as one of the 40 new hospitals, but unfortunately new buildings alone will not resolve the complex issues our hospital faces. As the most remote UK hospital on the mainland, we incur significant additional costs of delivery due to the diseconomies of scale of serving a small and geographically dispersed population. Although the community services formula goes some way to redressing this, it is not enough.
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust receives a rural premium of £3 million, but it believes that the deficit caused by remoteness is, in fact, £14 million. This then disadvantages other health systems in Devon, which have to supplement the difference. Despite this clearly being a levelling up of services within Devon, it is not the solution to the issue. I am delighted to see additional funding into our much-loved NHS, but I hope that further steps will be taken to ensure that the rurality and unique nature of North Devon’s population and location will be fully recognised as plans for our new hospital progress and as covid-19 does too.
While speaking in the Budget debate, it would be remiss of me not to mention a sector that is not always recognised for its public service—that performed by our pubs, particularly the more rural ones. My village pubs provide defibrillators, community shops, post offices and the opportunity to go somewhere to chat. This is vital when so many communities are remote and rural isolation is a real issue. Up until a few hours ago, a chat over a pint or non-alcoholic beverage could make a huge difference to someone’s day.
The Budget did recognise how important pubs are, especially in communities such as mine, where they are often the last remaining place to gather in a village. The freezing of spirit, beer and cider duty was warmly welcomed, as was the extension of the business rates discount to £5,000. However, in the light of the difficult and escalating situation with the coronavirus, I very much hope that my rural publicans are watching Parliament TV and hear me saying that I will do whatever I can to support them as we go through the challenges of the coming weeks and months, and I very much hope that they will provide the public service they always do to our local community.
The Budget was a very positive step for our public services. We are the party of our public services, we are the party of the NHS, and I hope over the coming weeks we will show ourselves also to be the party of the pub.
Thanks to the 10 years of austerity Budgets and spending statements, our key public services have been cut to the bone and beyond, which means that they and the amazing people who work in them, who are already struggling with the day job, will now face incredible pressure and uncertainty in the weeks ahead. Although pouring money into the NHS is essential at this time, the crisis has exposed significant gaps after years of inadequate annual spending rounds. It has also exposed the state-sanctioned poverty policies of this Government.
The Government could learn from France, where households and businesses are being protected from going under with a €300 billion package. In Hounslow, after £140 million of cuts over 10 years, our council, like all local authorities, has simply no headroom available to address the covid-19 crisis in social care, in public health or through support for volunteering to ensure the safety of vulnerable people in self-isolation.
In the short and ever-diminishing time available, I will cover issues that have dominated my postbag and that, unless the Government address them, will continue to do so and continue to be relevant, even once we are over this crisis. There was nothing in the Budget to enable councillors or the London Mayor to properly serve our communities at this time. The growing number of children with special educational and development needs have no or inadequate additional specialist support, which could make a difference for their future. There was nothing in the Budget to address mental health, and specifically young people’s mental health, an issue raised with me at just about every secondary school I visit and in my constituency survey last year. The Government need to end the postcode lottery of mental health treatment and provide adequate funding for child and adolescent mental health services and for local early intervention services.
Another missed opportunity in the Budget was tackling violent crime, especially among young people, given the loss of 20,000 police officers, who are not going to be replaced quickly, and the new recruits who do have the innate knowledge of preventing and addressing crime that can only be learned over many years on the job. Alongside policing, council funding cuts mean that youth services have been cut by 70% since 2010, with the loss of the vast majority of experienced youth workers.
Although I welcome the £1 billion in the Budget to address cladding, I regret that there is nothing for those at the sharp end of the housing crisis. Purchase and even private rent are out of reach for many thousands of my constituents. More than 2,000 households are homeless in Hounslow and more are living in overcrowded or unsuitable housing. They will get permanent and adequate housing only with substantial and sustained Government action.
The elephant in the room in the Budget was the climate crisis. Billions for new roads were found and the freeze on fuel duty was upheld, but there was nothing for active travel or for solar, tidal or hydro power, which scream out for investment. I of course appreciate the fact that the Budget was delivered at a time of extreme uncertainty and that funding has gone to the NHS, but this is not a Budget for the people of this country and did not address the continuing underlying problems facing our society.
First, I pay tribute to the Government for the immense steps that they are taking to tackle coronavirus. Clearly the Budget makes an enormous contribution to help those who have been hugely affected by what is the most serious situation that the country has faced in a generation. My thoughts are with everybody who is fighting to protect all of us.
Before I came into the House, I was a chartered accountant for some 15 years. When I see a Budget, delivered last week, where our debt is falling and is predicted to be four percentage points lower at the end of Parliament, and with a current budget surplus in every one of the next five years and economic growth predicted in every one of the next five years, I see beyond question an economy not only moving in the right direction, but an economy in safe hands.
It was our NHS and our health service, more than anything, that got the boost it really needed. It is a great pillar of our nation and, as our Health Secretary said earlier today, will continue to get the funding it needs. This was a Government that put its money where its mouth was and delivered on a manifesto that people believed in and voted in. That is why we have the majority that we have.
We need to face some facts. I am sorry that it is a political hot potato and that people in this country dare not say it, but we have an ageing population—one that is increasing continuously. In 50 years’ time, we will see nearly another 9 million people aged 65 or over. We simply will have to pour money into the NHS just to keep on top of how our population is changing, and that is no short-term fix. It needs planning—planning for the very long term. To do that effectively and be trusted by the public to get on and do the job properly, we need a Government with stability and the majority that we now have. We have now committed record amounts, including an additional £6 billion on top of the already committed £34 billion.
Why do I stand in the Chamber and bang on about a new A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital? I do that because we need it, because we have the oldest constituency demographic in the country. I grew up there and by golly do we need another A&E. Ours is full constantly. I now know that with the funding we are putting into the NHS, that dream will become a reality.
I am really pleased that the east was not left out. There was huge talk about money for the north, but an awful lot of money is still going to be spent in the east, and there are already funds set aside for the NNUH, the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust and South Norfolk CCG. They will all get better targeted investment. My one plea would be that we address social care in this country, and I now know that we will do that in this Parliament.
Just to finish off, for everybody who is preaching caution and saying that we are throwing away our fiscal rules, let me say this from somebody who was in business: now is the time to show that we really can do this. We now have record low interest rates. We have a mandate to run the country. It is exactly the right time to get on and do the job.
While Members have expressed a number of concerns about the Budget that I would echo, I wish to focus my remarks on coronavirus and the impact it will have on my constituency.
I spent this morning and early afternoon visiting a number of businesses in my constituency to hear at first hand the impact coronavirus is having on the ground. One organisation raised with me the fact that the loss of income is having a big impact in terms of cancellations of bookings and administration charges associated with refunding tickets for organisations. Another organisation raised the fact that the cancellation is costing in excess of £400,000 a week. In Lambeth, there are more than 30,000 self-employed workers. I continue to receive messages that they are seeing cancellations and a reduction in bookings as a direct result of the virus.
The Chancellor’s response to the self-employed and those not eligible for statutory sick pay is to direct them towards universal credit. Unfortunately, the universal credit system is not fit for purpose. We have seen a sharp increase in food bank use under universal credit, and the five-week wait built into the system means that it is not suitable to deal with millions of temporary new claimants. The Chancellor must go further to ensure that universal credit works and to start that payment from day one so that the system can deal with those who need it due to coronavirus.
Many of my constituents are in insecure work and will also be in the private rented sector. They do not have adequate levels of security in their tenure to deal with the crisis. If we expect people to stay at home, tenants need to have a secure home for the entirety of the crisis. People should not be forced to choose between health and hardship. The support provided to mortgage holders is reassuring, but there seems to be little by way of support for vulnerable tenants who struggle to pay their rent and have been forced to leave their home. How can tenants be assured that they can self-isolate whenever they feel symptoms if they can also be evicted with two months’ notice if they fall behind on their rent?
As the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall, which contains the world-class and famous South Bank area, I represent some of the most visited attractions and businesses in the country. That brings with it busy hospitality and a leisure centre that should be looking forward to a thriving spring and summer, but even now, when relatively new cases of coronavirus seem to be coming, those businesses are already struggling with the impact.
Members of the South Bank Partnership of businesses have told me that they are suffering from reduced footfall and booking numbers, and venues are seeing a drop in group bookings from Asia and mainland Europe. Bars and restaurants are seeing a drop in customers and future bookings, and major hotel chains have seen a 30% drop on per-room revenue compared with last year. This afternoon, the Prime Minister announced that the public should not go to theatres, but the Government are not enforcing mandatory closure, which means that many businesses will not be able to claim the insurance that was put in place to protect them. This is not working, so will the Chancellor work with me, the Mayor of London and these businesses to develop a forward-thinking recovery plan that helps these companies and gives them the reassurances they need?
The Government’s measures to protect small businesses are welcome, but many of the businesses I have spoken to feel fearful about their future, and the Government’s package does not go far enough. Will the Chancellor resolve this crisis by funding local government and giving it guidance on implementing hardship funds, so that we can all continue to support our local businesses?
I want to start by expressing my gratitude and admiration for the dedication and professionalism of all in our health services at this extremely difficult time. It is a challenge that none of us wanted to face, but it is important that we are united in doing so.
I congratulate the Chancellor on his determination to take mitigating action against the challenges of covid-19 in his ambitious Budget. It is a responsible and reassuring message from the Treasury, which has stepped up promptly and resolutely, echoing the Prime Minister’s assurance that no one should be penalised for doing the right thing, and delivering unprecedented levels of investment in our public services at this crucial time. I stood on a platform of delivering more investment in our public services, and the record investment across the health service will undoubtedly ease the pressures on our much loved NHS. I will continue to press for a resolution of the PFI legacy at Royal Stoke University Hospital as we approach the spending review.
I am a strong believer that the key to delivering the best possible public services is to develop and adopt new technologies, while ensuring that we maintain a free-at-the-point-of-use, world-class health service. Those technologies range from innovative new medical devices, treatments and applications at hospitals and health centres to smart apps that maintain an individual’s independence by monitoring their health in their own home. The current needs in responding to the coronavirus make the latter particularly pertinent.
Stoke-on-Trent is a world leader in the development of advanced ceramics, which has many applications, including across health. I am extremely keen to see the establishment of the advanced ceramics campus at Staffordshire University, to encourage the fusion of education, research and public sector innovation with leading private sector partners such as Lucideon.
I welcome the £1.5 billion in capital spending to refurbish further education colleges and the commitment of £2.5 billion for a national skills fund to improve adult skills. As it says on page 4 of the Red Book,
“The government is committed to giving everyone the opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of where they are from.”
In Stoke-on-Trent, that could—and should—mean that the excellent facilities in local colleges could be used more fully to offer evening courses for local people in work who wish to gain new skills. That is very much part of the levelling up agenda, offering people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to gain qualifications, move up the employment ladder or look at the possibility of self-employment.
This Budget keeps us on the right path, with opportunities to secure better public services locally. It provides assurance that, no matter how difficult the weeks and months ahead may be because of the coronavirus pandemic, this Government will pursue the positive agenda that we were sent to this House to deliver.
I want to pay tribute to our social care workers across the country—a workforce who day in, day out work hard to care for our loved ones who are vulnerable owing to age, illness or disability; and a workforce who are often among the lowest paid and in precarious zero-hours employment, yet whose skills, compassion and dedication make a daily difference between whether life is utterly intolerable or lived to the full.
Social care has suffered a decade of austerity and neglect by the Tories. We have known for many years that our population is ageing and that our social care system is inadequately funded and unsustainable, as demonstrated starkly in the 1 million people eligible for care who are currently not receiving any support, and in the £3.5 billion a year that is needed just to meet current needs.
The Government have repeatedly kicked the social care can down the road, and the consequences are now coming home to roost. Social care is on the frontline of the covid-19 pandemic, providing care for vulnerable people—many of whom will be in high-risk groups for the virus—and meeting additional needs as hospitals work to discharge people to free up bed space. Yet there has been a woeful lack of support and guidance for the social care sector in the context of the pandemic.
On Friday, more than 100 parliamentarians from several parties joined me in writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask him to guarantee full pay for social careworkers who have to self-isolate because of covid-19. This commitment has already been made to NHS workers and contractors. It is vital for the protection of the vulnerable people who receive social care that staff who have direct contact with them, often providing intimate care, do not have to choose between the safety of those in their care and paying their own rent or feeding their family. Please could the Government make this commitment without further delay?
It seems hard to imagine that our current utterly broken social care system can cope in this current crisis, and the Government must, without further delay, deliver comprehensive reform. However, in the short term, emergency funding for social care to protect the workforce and those they care for is an absolutely vital part of minimising the impact and the devastation of this pandemic.
I am very grateful to have been squeezed in at the end of this debate. It is quite clear that this Budget and all of us are very much under the shadow of the coronavirus update, and that we will have many stern days ahead of us. We must all pull together, and it is very good to see the House doing that today.
If I were able to, I would have liked to welcome a number of things in the Budget. I would have liked to have spoken about the environmental measures, and about the measures for veterans and on health in greater detail, as well as about the measures for education and even for potholes, all of which I welcome. If I may, in the brief time available to me, I will just make two points, which are about research and development and education.
For many years, this country has lagged behind others in the amount of GDP it puts into research and development. This has meant that we have problems with productivity, and that in many of the areas in which we excel, such as the high-tech areas of the economy, we are not doing as well as we could. I very much welcome the £22 billion going into that, and particularly the blue skies, ARPA-style agency that will be considering some of the high-risk businesses it will be possible to put money into in the future. I very much welcome that, along with some of the education steps that have also been taken, with the T-levels that are coming in. I also greatly welcome the money that has been put into mathematics, and also skills. One of the things that all businesses say in my constituency—I am sure it is the same for other Members—is that they simply do not have enough people with the right skills. The skills shortage is really something that we have to address, and I am very glad that this Budget does so.
The reason why I make those points and why I am so pleased to welcome these measures in the Budget is that, while we all pull together and deal with the dark days lying ahead of us with the coronavirus epidemic or pandemic, we should look forward to the future because we will have to rebuild the economy, help people to invest and help people to get on with and to rebuild their lives economically as well as personally. It is critical that we do that, because ultimately that is how we will build the excellent public services for the future that we all want to see.
Order. There are two more speakers, and I hope the remaining two speakers will take three minutes each, in which case we will have time to squeeze both of you in.
That is most kind of you, Madam Deputy Speaker; thank you for making that happen. I thank everyone who has made a contribution.
I wish to thank the Chancellor and his team for the tremendous efforts that have been made in producing this Budget, especially in the light of the current events that are overtaking all else. I welcome some of the measures taken. The planned increase in spirits duty will be cancelled, with no duties for cider or wine drinkers as well, although a packet of cigarettes will cost 27p more, which I have to say is good news. I welcome the abolition of the so-called tampon tax, and I would welcome further initiatives to combat period poverty. I am delighted to see the pledge to double the spending on research and development. I thank the Chancellor for all these things and congratulate him on them.
I express some concern about the fact that there was no mention at all of air passenger duty and its importance for us in Northern Ireland and, indeed, for the whole of the United Kingdom. Again, I understand the seriousness of the Budget in relation to coronavirus, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. The Chancellor outlined measures to ensure that small businesses in England receive rates relief, but the same processes are not in place in Northern Ireland. Our disappointment is that although the Chancellor said those things, unfortunately we do not see any benefit coming through to us at the moment.
The Health Secretary said that we will know “shortly”—perhaps in the next few minutes—how much money there will be to tackle coronavirus in Northern Ireland, and I hope we get the opportunity to hear that. Will the Minister confirm what money will be available for Northern Ireland, based on the Budget and Government information?
I welcome the fact that the Government will cover 14 days of statutory sick pay for companies with 250 employees, and the suspension of rates to pay sick leave, and so many other things that have been brought in for England. But are we in Northern Ireland any less British? Are our businesses any less deserving of help? Can we say that we have got what is needed from coronavirus aid? The answer is no, we have not, and I am very disappointed about that.
I have heard mothers say that if they have no school or paid day care for their children they will not be able to work, so if they have coronavirus and need to self-isolate, there will be real problems with childcare providers. I welcome the £210 million in the Budget to establish Treasury officials in Northern Ireland. The tax threshold has dropped, and there is no additional tax on red diesel—assistance that makes a difference for many things. I sincerely appreciate the Chancellor’s efforts in this uncertain time, but we need a whole UK approach. Just as in other times of national crisis the regions pulled together, so must we also do that. The Government intend to ensure that someone’s postcode does not dictate the help and assistance given, and neither should it dictate their income tax. Let us get this right.
This will be a Northern Ireland double act. In my limited time, I wish to mention the impact of the Budget on Northern Ireland. Spending in Northern Ireland per capita is higher than in most other parts of the UK, but that reflects our legacy of division of violence, and there has been a lack of opportunity to restructure our economy over recent decades. I stress that only three out of 12 UK regions are net contributors to the UK Treasury.
Before the coronavirus crisis, the Northern Ireland economy was struggling to make ends meet—that was a result of 10 years of austerity, as well as of domestic mismanagement, and our failure to reform public services, or address the cost of managing a divided society where there is a lot of duplication. We need to get our house in order, and I welcome our feet being held to the fire in that regard, with things such as the forthcoming fiscal council.
There is an ongoing shortfall of £600 million to begin with, just to keep the lights on, never mind fulfilling the commitments in the “New Decade, New Approach” document. We need assistance and ongoing mature discussion between the Executive and the Treasury, about how we can better finance such issues. As Jim Shannon said, we have a particular crisis with coronavirus. Northern Ireland is different from other parts of the UK, including in terms of our economy, and although we welcome a lot of the initiatives that were announced over the past week—even tonight I think more money was announced for the devolved regions—it is unclear how far that will go to address our particular circumstances.
There is an issue with our ability to replicate the welcome 100% rates relief for small businesses in Northern Ireland, but that needs to happen. We have a particular dependence on tourism and hospitality, and we must ensure that those sectors are protected and able to survive. It is important that we get through this crisis with our economy in decent shape, and that we do not lose too many businesses along the way. Measures to support businesses and workers are important.
We can learn lessons from what is happening in other jurisdictions. In the Republic of Ireland, the Taoiseach has spoken about support for workers who would otherwise be laid off, and the Government should say to businesses, “We will make up that shortfall. Please don’t lay workers off.” In France, President Macron is offering to ensure that no business will go bust, and those are the types of lessons we need to learn for Northern Ireland. Hopefully, the Chancellor and Treasury will look favourably at that, and have a mature discussion with the Northern Ireland Executive over the coming days, to ensure an economic recovery plan for Northern Ireland.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker—that was slightly unexpected, but I am sure it reflected this wide-ranging and well-subscribed debate. We have heard some excellent maiden speeches. I wish I could praise them more fully, but it was wonderful to hear from the new hon. Members for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham), for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), and for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici). I wish them every success in this place.
As my hon. Friend Christian Matheson said, this was a Budget of two halves—a response both to coronavirus and to longer-term issues—but we needed an emergency Budget even before coronavirus came along. I am afraid I cannot agree with the rosy description the Minister gave of our economy at the start of the debate. Sadly, before the current crisis began, our economy was flatlining. We had three months of 0% growth up to January, we have had the lengthiest squeeze on living standards in this country since Napoleonic times, and we have had the slowest recovery from an economic crisis for 100 years.
We needed an emergency response in this Budget for the long term as well as the short term. I will talk about where there are some questions about the short-term response, but we broadly agree with the direction of travel and will work with the Government on those issues. However, we really need to see the long-term response. I hope we will have more detailed discussions about that, particularly once the present crisis has passed.
There has been much debate in the last few hours about public services. A number of Members talked about the new investment coming in, but a number also mentioned confusion about testing. We got more clarity during the course of the afternoon, but I make this plea to the Government: it is critical to have transparency. It was clear, at least in what I heard from the Health Secretary, that policy has been driven to an extent by the availability of testing. If that had just been made clearer earlier, we would have avoided much unnecessary confusion. We also learned today that the NHS will be required to identify and contact individuals who will need to self-isolate. I know many GP surgeries are doing that already, but we must recognise the hours that that mammoth task will take up.
Surely we also need more detail on international action. We heard the Health Secretary say today that every effort is rightly being made to bring on new ventilator capacity, for example. Can we have more detail about what work is being undertaken with other countries so we do not have an unseemly scramble for resources that are so desperately necessary in our country and others?
There was much discussion, too, about social care. As my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana rightly said, we are in a difficult situation already when it comes to our social care services, with 500,000 fewer people receiving publicly funded care now than back in 2010. We did not have specific information about how social care organisations—not necessarily the small and medium-sized enterprises, which might be covered by other schemes—will be supported. A number of those bodies are already in financial difficulties. How will they be supported? We need that information.
On business support, the Health Secretary said he had his “eyes wide open” to the economic consequences of this crisis. His eyes are wide open, but he needs to take more action, given the dawning realisation of the potential impacts, which were described eloquently by my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi. Many of us share her concerns—including, it appears, Paul Johnson from the IFS, who stated today that the support so far is insufficient. We need answers to questions such as, what will be the role of the British Business Bank? What will be the precise co-ordination between banks? We know the Government are working with them, but what exactly will be done?
Critically, we also need answers about insurance. I was pleased to hear that the Economic Secretary is talking to the insurance industry but, first, we really need to understand when and if the Government will state explicitly that it is necessary to close facilities such as pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities. We know that, lacking footfall, they will practically close, but they will not be covered by insurance. Please—we need more information about that. As Saqib Bhatti said, please can we ensure that this coronavirus is recognised for insurance purposes and push the companies to do that?
Then, of course, there are questions about support for individuals. There is a debate about sick pay tomorrow, when I am sure many Members will mention, as others did today, the need for short-working arrangements. That was mentioned by the right hon. Members for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), my hon. Friend Jack Dromey and John Redwood. He is not a man with whom I am always in perfect agreement, but he was absolutely right to point out the need for those arrangements. Germany is looking at introducing them again, as it did during the financial crisis, and Ireland is already shifting towards a similar position. As my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury said, we seem to be a bit behind the curve when it comes to the international response in that regard, particularly in comparison with France.
There are also many questions about social security, which is essential in a situation where, as my hon. Friend Jim McMahon said, so many people are a payday away from poverty. We heard many questions about help for the self-employed, which was mentioned by Chris Grayling and my hon. Friend Afzal Khan. Simply saying that people can go on to universal credit or employment and support allowance, with all the issues we know they have, just is not good enough. As my hon. Friend Emma Hardy said, unless we deal with income maintenance now, we will make the economic contraction even sharper than it needs to be.
There was much discussion today about housing. My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh pointed out the dire impact of overcrowding in trying to deal with this crisis. I understand discussions about mortgages are going on and that there will be guidance on rough sleeping, but we need clarity on exactly what is going to change. Are the Government going to work with courts on evictions, foreclosures and so on?
Questions were raised about support for older people and whether the free TV licence would be provided for over-75s. What exactly is the action on free school meals going to be? It is good that the Government are talking among themselves—the Education Secretary talking to the Health team and so on—about free school meals, but what action will be taken? When will our devolved Governments know exactly which funds will be available? Just always saying, “We’ll get that information later” is not good enough.
The same situation applies to local government. As mentioned so many times, including by my hon. Friend Bambos Charalambous, there is no clarity yet about when public health allocations will become clear. We heard in the debate that local authorities will have even more responsibilities, for example, for burials in some aspects. Their rent will be diminished through the housing revenue account. It was telling that the Secretary of State said that help for charities would need to come from clinical commissioning groups, not local authorities. That perhaps reflects how hollowed our local authorities are, but how will the national volunteer effort, which we heard about again today, be delivered if it is not with the support of local authorities?
The Minister said at the start of the debate that we should be fighting this war while we are planning the peace. Then let us learn the lessons. We need to recognise how our response is being made harder because of changes that have occurred over recent years. My hon. Friend Justin Madders listed the many sad, historic NHS waiting list records we have recently reached. We did not have any reference, in introductory speeches, to the health inequalities data that have come out recently, and we did not have reference to the crises in mental health and other areas. We needed a long-term plan for social care before this crisis. We needed the 100,000 staff we are missing from our NHS before this crisis. We are asking those staff to make extraordinary efforts. They have a sense of grim determination, passion and commitment to do the right thing, but we should never, ever again be asking them to do the right thing with so few resources after 10 years.
It is a pleasure to speak at the end of this long but very interesting debate, with 34 contributions by Back-Bench Members from across the House. Before I attempt to respond to many of the questions, I would first like to extend my very best wishes to Anneliese Dodds on her birthday today. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
We have been fortunate in this debate to hear three excellent maiden speeches. My hon. Friend Antony Higginbotham said that he is the first Conservative to be elected in Burnley since 1910. He spoke about his passion to end hospital car parking charges. It is great that the Budget has moved us forward in that regard, with the changes beginning in April.
We heard from my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher, who, very movingly, told the story of Tommy in two different scenarios, speaking very much to the aspirations of the Government in terms of investment in life opportunities. He also spoke very openly and bravely about his Christian faith.
We also heard from my hon. Friend Lia Nici, who, supported by my hon. Friend Martin Vickers, made the case for a free port in her constituency. The Government will take very seriously the representations she made.
I recognise that the debate was punctuated by a very important statement from the Secretary of State for Health. I also recognise that the hon. Member for Oxford East raised a number of questions, some of which I will be able to respond to. I am sure my colleagues across Government will be making further statements in coming days to clarify some of those points. The Government are committed to supporting our world-class public services with the investment they need: investment in the here and now, with a £30 billion package for the country to tackle covid-19, including a £5 billion Cobra response fund for the NHS and other public services; and investment for the future. She is right that there has been a material development as a consequence of today’s announcement, and there are matters that we in the Treasury will reflect on carefully, but a support package for business was set out last week and we will look at that in terms of what we say later this week.
In last year’s spending round, the Government pledged an additional £34 billion for the NHS by the end of this Parliament, together with 20,000 more police and an additional £14 billion for education over the next three years. That was only the beginning of our ambition, however. We are determined to deliver for the people who put their trust in us. We are ready to take the big decisions necessary to transform our country. The Budget is proof of that commitment.
By the end of this Parliament, day-to-day spending on public services will be £100 billion more in cash terms than when we came into government a decade ago. Nowhere is our commitment more evident than in the national health service. In 2018, the Government agreed a historic multi-year funding settlement and committed to spend an additional £34 billion by 2024. Through the Budget, the Government will commit a further £6 billion.
Together, that provides the financial security and certainty that the health service needs to prepare for the future at a time when it is under unprecedented pressure to once again step up and go beyond the call of duty. It means that we can proceed with delivering 50,000 more nurses. It will fund the creation of 50 million more GP surgery appointments a year and it will enable work to start on 40 new hospitals. Crucially, we will also invest in the future health and wellbeing of our society, with £1 billion extra for adult social care every year of this Parliament, and nearly £650 million to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation.
The Government’s most important task is to keep the public safe. Thanks to the £750 million we made available at the spending round, the first of 20,000 additional police officers are now being recruited. Last week’s Budget confirmed that we will make available an additional £114 million in support of counter-terrorism efforts. Ultimately, a safe and secure society rests on a firm but humane justice system that can reform and rehabilitate offenders back into society, as my hon. Friend Rob Butler said. We will improve conditions for those living and working in our prison system, which my hon. Friend John Howell raised, while increasing the number of offenders required to wear electronic tags and expanding the number of hours offenders can spend doing unpaid work.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that this was a Budget for businesses. If we are to unleash the potential of businesses across the country, we need to equip people with the skills to match our ambition. Last year’s spending round provided schools with a three-year settlement, so that per pupil funding can rise at least in line with inflation, which was welcomed by my hon. Friend Laura Farris in her thoughtful contribution.
In this Budget, the Government will invest a further £95 million to support the roll-out of T-levels, and we will fund 11 maths schools across every region of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, £1.5 billion will be made available for capital spending in the further education sector and we will bring together employers and educators to open eight new institutes of technology. Those measures will help to ensure that our country has the skills it needs to prosper, not just today, but into the 2030s, 2040s and beyond.
Alongside our increased investment in public services, we will redouble our efforts to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion. The vast majority of taxpayers in this country—businesses and individuals alike—pay their correct taxes on time and expect others to do the same. For that reason, the Government will give Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs more funding to tackle non-compliance and secure an extra £4.4 billion of revenue that is not currently obtained. Every penny that HMRC can recover will mean more money for frontline public services.
Now that we have left the European Union, our future is in our hands. The Government are determined to seize the opportunity to create a country that is not only stronger and more prosperous, but safer, fairer and healthier too.
This Budget will ensure that our police have the resources that they need to keep our streets safe. We will ensure that the NHS has the doctors, nurses and other professionals that it needs to continue delivering world-class healthcare, free to every man, woman and child, for decades to come. The Budget will also help our schools, colleges and universities to equip young people to thrive in life, and our economy to access the talent and skills that it needs to grow. I urge Members in all parts of the House to support the Budget tomorrow evening.
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.