Madame Deputy Speaker,
As we begin to move away from the pandemic, we face many challenges and opportunities. Challenges, yes, after exiting the worlds largest trade bloc, of our post-pandemic recovery and of the monumental threat of climate change which is not just a threat that we will face in the future, but something we are experiencing right now. But opportunities from the chance to reset after the pandemic and create a new, fairer world, using the lessons we have learnt in recent years to embolden our approach to dealing with the challenges we face.
Instead, what we got, was this budget, papering over the cracks with the lines that we expect from a government with no ambition beyond its own self-preservation. This is not a budget that provides the necessary economic basis for the changes our country needs to see, it is a budget aimed at helping out this government’s polling numbers.
The Chancellor makes references, firstly, to the forecasts of the Office for Budget Responsibility, bragging on how our economy is set to return to pre-pandemic levels in March and how growth is up. But, after the initial recovery bump in growth, the OBR also shows how we will return to the sluggish growth of just over 1% in 2024, something we have become accustomed to during the previous decade of austerity cuts.
As the Chancellor continued, he stated that we will see an increase in real terms spending for every department. Unfortunately, even in 2024, that still leaves many departments worse off than in 2010. As Ben Zoranko of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said, “austerity is over but not undone”. According to the IFS, spending at the Department for Housing & Communities will be over 60% worse off, Transport 25% worse off and Defence 10.4% worse off than in 2010. In education, we will only see a return to 2010 levels by 2024. This is a decade and a half of lost investment in education. That is a disgrace, and it has occurred on the Conservative Party’s watch.
But what is even more infuriating is the gall of the Chancellor to claim his is “the party of public services” after 40 years of advocating for cuts, privatisation and deregulation leaving the British people worse off. 1 year of slight spending increases does not make up for 4 decades of failure.
But, whilst this budget fails to deliver, we see the British public forking out more in taxes. We currently see the highest level of tax as a percentage of GDP since the 1940s and together in the March and October budgets, the Chancellor has raised taxes more this year than in any single year since the two budgets of 1993 in the aftermath of Black Wednesday. The Shadow Chancellor was absolutely right when she said “never has a Chancellor asked the British people to pay so much for so little”.
Not only do we see taxes up and spending on many vital departments still less in real terms than in 2010, but wage growth has also flatlined. The OBR forecast means real wages will be lower in 2026 than they were in 2008. Average wages in 2026 will be around £18. If we instead had continued on the trend of wage growth from 1997 until 2008 then wages would be closer to £30 an hour, a difference of £11.70 an hour. This is not a consequence of the global financial crisis, this is a consequence of the ideological choice to implement austerity after the Conservatives came to power in 2010. It is a consequence of the policies of the party opposite, supported every step of the way by those occupying cabinet jobs now.
The final point I want to address is that of the cut to air passenger duty. In the year which we host the climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow, the Chancellor is, instead of being serious about tackling the issue, cutting tax on internal flights. It is a kick in the teeth to people up and down the country who want to see action to tackle the existential threat of climate change, and this shows how little the government actually cares. We are in the last decade we have for the government to take the necessary radical action to evade the worst excesses of climate breakdown. At this point in time, the government should not feel able to do something like this, regardless of the pressure from the aviation lobby. Urgent action is required right now, and the government are not taking that action.
Many aviation workers will be understandably worried about their career prospects in a post-carbon, post-fossil fuel economy, but the way to put their concerns at ease is not to bring them closer to climate breakdown. Instead, the government should aiding those workers to retrain and redeploy in alternative sectors of our economy. Instead of internal flights, we should be looking towards train travel as the more sustainable alternative. However, it instead continues to be of poor quality and high prices. This is the great Tory rail rip-off whilst bending to the will of the aviation lobby. Bringing transport into public ownership would allow the government to make public transport cheaper for working people whilst also allowing it to be planned and delivered for public good not private profit. If the Chancellor really wants an “infrastructure revolution” as more than just a soundbite, then he should actually take the necessary action to bring about a green infrastructural and industrial revolution. Instead, the Chancellor panders to the climate-sceptics and small-state Thatcherites in his party as he prepares for a leadership run.
To close, Madame Deputy Speaker, this budget is not only a missed opportunity to bring our economy and our country forward, it actively hurts our efforts to combat the climate crisis whilst not even reversing the worst cuts of austerity that we saw in the decade of Conservative government before the pandemic. This is not even “too little too late”, it is an act of sabotage against our country and future generations.