THE CHANCELLOR wanted us to pay as little attention as possible to his spring statement. His aides had briefed for weeks that this would be a “nothing doing” statement, that there would be little to report beyond the official forecasts. He certainly lived down to those expectations.
He was patted on the back by his colleagues. The Tories can delude themselves that all is well - but in every community across the country the failures of the austerity and neo-liberal economic policy are all too evident:
- Homelessness at a record high. More rough sleepers on London’s streets than ever.
- The NHS limping through its worst ever winter crisis. Per pupil schools funding cut for the first time in a generation.
- Social care in crisis. Over a million vulnerable elderly people deprived of the care they need.
- Children’s services in crisis. The numbers of children taken into care at an all-time high. The head of Action for Children has called the situation a potential “catastrophe”.
- Local authorities - and here I quote the head of the Local Government Information Unit - at “breaking point”. Already one council has been forced into effective bankruptcy. Two-thirds are being forced to use their reserves for statutory services.
- The most basic functions of a decent, caring society ground down after eight years of cuts.
The Chancellor could have begun to end all this. He could have supplied the emergency funding our children’s services need. He could have eased the pressure on our local authorities, with three quarters now fearing for their future. And yet he quite deliberately did nothing for any of them.
The Tories’ economic policy has been a slow-motion disaster. Average pay is lower now, in real terms, than it was in 2010. Home ownership is the lowest for a generation, while homelessness is at record levels. The numbers in insecure work are the highest recorded. One in five are precariously employed. Personal debt has rocketed back upwards. One in six people, 8.3 million people, have debt problems. The number of insolvency arrangements is the highest ever recorded.
Now clearly some have benefited from the last eight years:
- Britain was the slowest growing of any G7 country last year, but has seen the fastest rise in wealth inequality under the Tories. The truth is that the Tories have rigged this economy, against the many and for the benefit of a few.
- At least £12bn is lost every year through tax avoidance by the wealthy. The scandals of the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers happened under their watch, with a plentiful cast of Tory donors and supporters up to their necks in avoidance schemes.
- The poorest 10% pay 42% of their income in tax, the richest 10% just 34%.
- The tax giveaways to corporations will continue, over £70bn over the next five years.
- The Tories prioritised tax cuts for the rich ahead of public spending for the most vulnerable.
And what exactly, do we have to show for the eight years of misery that austerity has caused? The deficit hasn’t been so much shrunk as shifted onto the backs of the sick, the elderly, and the vulnerable.
That is the real meaning of the spring statement figures. Confronted with the real, appalling impact of the spending cuts, Hammond did nothing.
When every responsible, professional body, and when every responsible expert in the field, is saying that essential public services - like social care or children’s care - simply cannot continue to carry the burden of spending cuts, I fear it is only a matter of time before we are confronted with a tragedy as one of those services fail.
The Chancellor had the opportunity to act. He chose, instead, to do nothing. But that was the Chancellor’s choice. He could have changed course. But he didn’t.
And if he and his government are unwilling to take action, they should move aside for a Labour government that will. We can hasten the election of that Labour government by our campaign to win council seats for Labour in May.
Let’s get out there to elect Labour councillors and demoralise the Tories even further.
Shadow Chancellor, MP for Hayes and Harlington, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee. John has been involved in Labour Briefing since the early years.