Spring Budget 2024: Welsh Economy — [Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:38 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:38, 17 April 2024

I am afraid the Conservative spring Budget was a real smoke-and-mirrors affair, and people in the Llanelli constituency are not taken in by it. The Prime Minister, and indeed the Minister, may boast that they have cut the rate of national insurance, but people in Llanelli know that we do not get something for nothing. They feel worse off, and that is because they are worse off. We have had the biggest fall in living standards in our history, with the UK economy remaining stagnant. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that GDP per person has fallen in each of the last seven quarters—the longest period of stagnation since the 1950s.

People in Llanelli and across the UK are worse off under the Conservative Government, and they are now bearing the highest tax burden in 70 years. For every 5p the Conservative Government have given back in tax, they have in fact taken away 10p. People have pointed out to me that they have been hit by the freezing of the tax threshold. As their incomes have increased over the past few years—although never by enough, of course, to keep up with the rampant inflation that this Conservative Government have presided over—people have found that they are reaching the tax threshold for the first time or that more of their income is now subject to tax.

The freezing of the basic threshold has brought 3.7 million more people across the UK into paying tax, and more taxpayers are being squeezed by having to pay the higher rate of tax as more of their income is in that bracket, often because of a pay rise that has not even kept pace with inflation. So there is a double whammy of more tax and less purchasing power.

We have seen another sneaky trick: the devolution of the increasing cost of the burden of public services to the Welsh Government and local councils. As we know, a large proportion of what councils spend on local services comes from central Government—UK Government—taxation, to which we all of course contribute, whether it is allocated directly to councils in England or via the Welsh Government to councils in Wales. As the Conservative Government have squeezed and squeezed the Welsh budget, with the latest Welsh Government settlement some £3 billion less than if it had grown with GDP since 2010, the Welsh Government have had to pass on swingeing Conservative cuts to Welsh councils. Local councils in Wales are faced with the difficult balancing act of having to either cut services or raise council tax, at a time when councils, just like households, face huge inflation in their costs.