Autumn Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy) 1:27, 22 November 2023

I thank the Chancellor for advance sight of his redactions.

Madam Deputy Speaker, the Chancellor wants you to think he has pulled a rabbit out of the hat, but all he has done is pull the wool over many people’s eyes. Things are still getting worse for people. Inflation is still more than double the target, which means prices and costs for people in their homes are still going up day by day. The cost of living crisis goes on and people need help now. The economy, far from the cry of the Chancellor, is stagnating. On his watch, it is growing by nothing more than a sliver of a percentage. The Chancellor tries to take credit for things that he should be doing anyway and that the Government promised, or things they have already done and that they are now taking backwards steps on. I will come on to that in more detail.

The energy price cap goes up tomorrow and it is scheduled to go up again in January. Costs will continue to increase for people. I welcome some small measures—support for veterans, the national insurance class 2 abolition and the significant measure for business to make full expensing permanent—but the rest do not bear the scrutiny that I hope they will get from proper analysts over the next few days.

The burden is still high for people. The tax burden in the UK is still the highest it has been for seven years. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, even after the Chancellor’s measures, tax is higher than it was three years ago. In reality, the measures go nowhere near covering the cost of living crisis faced by people across the nations of the UK who are struggling with mortgages and rents, food bills and energy bills. We asked for mortgage interest tax relief to help those seeing their monthly bills go up and for measures to help renters. Why has the Chancellor ignored those people who are struggling? On food bills, we asked for action to help people at the checkout and reduce their costs, as France, Canada and Greece have done. Why has he chosen not to intervene on food and help people? We asked for a range of measures this winter to help people who will be facing even higher bills than they had last year, such as a £400 energy bill rebate, a lower price cap and a social tariff. Why has he chosen not to help those who will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter? Will he at least rule out the planned increase in the cap in January?

We asked the Chancellor to commit to increasing working-age benefits in line with inflation next year. Will he commit to doing that? Once again he has chosen to punish the most vulnerable with his welfare changes. The nasty party is back in business for good. Not supporting people is a choice and we all know what that choice is for this Government. This Government are on the record as working to the principle, “Let people die”. We wanted to hear about VAT cuts for tourism and hospitality, and how to get skilled workers to fill our vacancies, but he has chosen to ignore those stresses on our sectors. We asked him to lay off the Scotch whisky industry, and it is good that he has frozen the duty, but—enormous pause—he has frozen it at the rate he already increased it to, so the Scotch whisky industry is still paying 75% in tax under this Tory UK Government. Isn’t it funny how Scotland is always told it is too poor until the Government need to raise money from our exports and natural resources? Then, miraculously, riches are found!

We asked the Chancellor to invest in net zero. He made some announcements, but when we work down all his green investment plans and what he calls “green energy” we will find most of the money going into nuclear, the white elephant of the energy sector. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend Alan Brown says, it is an absolute shambles. We asked the Chancellor to match the £500 million energy transition fund for the north-east of Scotland, but he has chosen to ignore those opportunities, highlighting again why we need the full powers of independence in Scotland.

We asked the Chancellor to deliver, across the UK, additional funding for public services to allow us to help councils, the NHS and more, and he has chosen to ignore that call. As I have said, he has chosen not to help people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis. He could have helped mortgage and rent payers, he could have helped those who are struggling to pay for food, and he could have helped people with their energy bills.

In the Scottish National party, our values lead us to want to alleviate poverty and strive to get rid of it altogether. We seek measures—now and in the future—to help people, and we are acting now, freezing council tax, investing in childcare and saying no to tuition fees. We are using limited powers to mitigate this nasty Tory Government’s cruel policies, such as the rape clause and the bedroom tax. We are keeping our water, our rail services and our NHS in public hands. We are not, like the Tories and Labour, holding the door open for private companies to rush in. We have previously stepped in where Westminster has failed to boost broadband coverage, to increase our renewables, and to champion the just transition.

We choose to put our people first. Those are our values—values that build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland. The Scottish Government have taken the steps that they can take to help to alleviate the worst impacts of poverty, offering people a degree of stability through the council tax freeze and a cap on rent increases. We would do more, but the fiscal powers that are needed are currently in the Chancellor’s hands. We would choose to help. Today the Chancellor had the power to help people, to lift a finger to right some of the wrongs of this Government that he has inflicted on them, but people are not this Government’s priority. We know who goes through their priority lanes.

Why are this UK Government fixated on tents when they should be worried about rents? They have little to offer Scotland. Our route out of the chaos that Westminster has created, and the perma-austerity of the cost of living nightmare that people are having to endure, is through independence and rejoining the EU. We must have that choice.