Philip Hammond’s first Budget continues the Tory austerity and cuts. Instead of focusing on the crisis in the NHS, falling wages, the four million children living in poverty or the growing food bank queues, the Tories delivered a triumph of spin over substance.
This Budget was supposed to be business as usual and for once I agree with the Tories because there was no new announcement on funding for our train line, no change in the far south west getting pitifully low per head education funding and no real help for the NHS crisis that is affecting our hospitals.
THE TORY JOB TAX
I remember in the General Election seeing direct mail, leaflets and online adverts from the Conservatives talking up the impact of “Labour’s job tax”. This was the Tories attempt to say that if Labour had won in 2015 they would have put up National Insurance – nonsense, but that didn’t matter, the mud stuck. They called it a jobs tax and told floating voters in Plymouth that it would hit them hard. Today we learn it was not Labour that is planning to put up National Insurance but the Tories. Hiking National Insurance for the self-employed not only hits them hard but also breaks one of the Conservative’s Manifesto pledges (see image below).
I’ve just read Oliver Colvile’s comments on today’s Budget. No mention of the broken election promise. No mention of how hiking NI will hit the 12,000 self-employed people in Plymouth hiking national insurance from 1% to 11%. That’s not a tax correction that’s a shameless tax grab from the pockets of some of the hardest workers in the city. No apology, no explanation, you wonder if he has even noticed?
NHS IN CRISIS
Under the Tories our NHS is underfunded and understaffed. Around 3.9 million people are on waiting lists. 1.8 million people wait for four hours of more in A&E. One in four patients have to wait a week or more to see their GP with many waiting much longer. Social care is in crisis. The response of our local Tory MPs is to dial up the soundbites and media interviews but go weak on delivery. The NHS and social care is in crisis. It doesn’t need a sticking plaster it needs proper funding. £2bn extra for the NHS sounds good – but when you split over three years and over the entire country it doesn’t go far. The problem here is when the Tories have taken so much out of social care, giving a little bit back and claiming that as a big success won’t wash. It isn’t extra money, it is just less of a cut. But that’s still a cut.
FAILING TO DELIVER FOR THE SOUTH WEST
One of the most over-used phrases when it comes to Budget reactions is “the devil is in the detail” but it is. If you look carefully, the Tories have shrunk the value of the National Living Wage from £9 per hour by 2020 to £8.75. They’ve also planned to borrow even more because of Brexit. The much vaunted £60bn war chest for Brexit isn’t setting aside a surplus, as there isn’t one, nor is it using any reserves, as we don’t have any. It is extra borrowing. This Government has borrowed more money in 7 years than Labour did in 13.
In 2017 there are two budgets. I do hope the Autumn Budget will deliver more for the south west than this one has. And let me be clear about what I want to see: proper extra funding for the NHS and social care, funding for a new train line and a reversal of the Tory plans for business rate reform that will see taxes hiked for the high street when big supermarkets will end up paying less. - Luke Pollard