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Budget Resolutions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons) 8:45 pm, 16th March 2020

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, 11 March 2020;
Vol. 673, c. 279.]

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.