Anna spoke in the Budget debate in the House of Commons today, accusing the government of smoke and mirrors with cuts to tax credits hitting families harder than any gains from a higher minimum wage.
I have heard a lot of self-congratulation and hubris and I have even seen some fist-pumping from those on the Government Benches about the long-term economic plan, of which this Budget is part, but the people of Redcar and Teesside have seen what the last five years of the Tory’s economic plan have meant for them and will be forgiven some scepticism about what they heard yesterday.
In Redcar in the last five years, we have seen six food banks a week, where formerly there were none; we have seen nearly 2,000 people hit by the bedroom tax and forced from their family homes; we have seen people sanctioned for accidentally filling in a form wrong or for missing an appointment because a child has had to go to hospital; we have seen pay freezes and redundancies and half of all women on less than a living wage, many of whom will be reliant on tax credits. Nationally, we have seen 500,000 more children in absolute poverty since 2010; the biggest fall in wages since 1874; rampant job insecurity; escalating private debt; a ballooning trade deficit; a shocking productivity record; and stagnating business investment.
In fact, if the Chancellor had any decency or integrity, he would have left himself a note in May saying, “I’m afraid there is still no money”, because the past five years have seen a greater increase in debt than under 13 years of Labour, a total failure to eradicate the deficit as promised, the loss of our triple A rating, mass under- employment, terms and conditions being undercut, a huge increase in bogus self-employment and rampant low pay.
What about this Budget and how it should deal with those issues? As many of my colleagues have said, it is a Budget of smoke and mirrors. Its living wage is not actually a living wage: it is 65p per hour less than the living wage should be. Some 4,000 people in my constituency of Redcar will be worse off because of the impact on tax credits, and the one nation narrative is divisive.
The Budget turns nation against nation, public sector workers against private sector workers, north against south, the inherited haves against the have-nots, the young against the old, and taxpayers against fellow citizens.
As for the northern powerhouse, it is nothing more than a slogan. The north-east was not even mentioned in the Budget speech. One in three children in the north-east is still in poverty. Our unemployment rate is still the highest in the country, and the trend in our region is going up, not down. We lost 60,000 public sector jobs and they were not magically replaced, as predicted, by private sector jobs. Those left now have the indignity of a pay rise of less than 1% for the next five years.
The plug has been pulled on infrastructure, and that includes the cancellation of the electrification of the railways. Spending on transport in the north-east is £5 per head compared with £2,600 per head in London. Local authority budgets have been cut by a third, despite higher levels of deprivation in our area. All we have got from this Chancellor is the change of name from the A1 to the M1, without any accompanying infrastructure investment.
In summary, I congratulate the Government on finally acknowledging that the past five years have been a disaster for wage levels, but their solutions provide nothing but smoke and mirrors and will leave my hard-working constituents, who are doing their best to feed their families and get through the month, worse off than ever.