Today’s budget proved the Tory’s complacency over the NHS and education crisis, while softening the blow for SMEs and pubs over business rate increases. Read my thoughts on today's budget.
As we go look at today’s budget, working people in Britain have seen their wages fall more than anywhere in Europe bar Greece, a crisis in social care and the NHS and record numbers of people dependent on food banks. That is the real record of this Tory government.
On social care, the announcement of £2bn in funding over the next three years, with an immediate £1bn available in 2017-2018, doesn’t go near enough to addressing the crisis we are in. This announcement is an insult when £4.6 billion was cut from the social care budget over the last parliament. Already, 1.2 million elderly people are not getting the social care they need to live an independent and dignified life.
The Government talks big on an ‘Industrial Strategy’ when it suits them - but today the Chancellor failed to even mention the word. Steel got one single mention in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper. Today it didn’t even get that. This Budget was another missed opportunity to provide reassurance for steel, a key foundation industry. There was nothing on a sector deal, nothing on a steel and materials catapult proposal, and no reassurance on energy costs. Funding promised for local transport networks, for innovation and technology and for R&D was largely re-announced commitments from last Autumn.
I was pleased to hear the Chancellor giving a small amount of ground over the business rates revaluation due in April of this year, after outrage from Labour, from businesses and even Conservative backbenchers. The discount of £1000 for pubs is welcome. However, pubs will still see a rise overall - this is just a discount, and only for one year, after which they will be stuck with the full increase. And as is usually the case with this Tory government they give with one hand and take with the other as the same Budget saw an increase in beer duty which will see prices rise for pub goers.
While he promised £300m to help the worst affected by the business rates changes, Labour have promised £450m emergency relief fund to be distributed at the discretion of local authorities – 50% more than the Government’s. We have also promised to exclude new plant and machinery from valuations, in order to incentivise investment. It’s that kind of exemption that will promote new money and innovation into our industries. Rethinking the revaluation process is not enough – we need to fundamentally reform business taxation so that SMEs aren’t paying for tax cuts for the largest corporations
The Tories have bypassed their own manifesto commitments to include an increase of 1% in NI contribution from the self-employed, but has provided nothing to alleviate the many concerns of the ‘gig economy’ - no holiday pay, no sick pay and often workers finding themselves earning far below the living wage. Average earnings for the self-employed are now just £11,000 and are lower now than when the Tories came to power.
On education, the Chancellor announced measures to pay for bus rides for children to grammar schools. I believe that prioritizing selective education in this way is totally morally bankrupt when there is a crisis in state education - classroom sizes are growing and our teachers haven’t seen a rise in their pay for 7 years.
Overall, today’s budget shows the Chancellor has failed to address the vital public service concerns of the millions of people across the country, and in doing so has done very little to help those ‘just about managing’.
You can find the full Spring Budget online here.