Autumn Budget statement – more austerity on the way

It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) and her incisive comments. I grew up in a council house in North Kenton, in Newcastle. I went to excellent local state schools, and the NHS made me well when I was ill and saved my mother’s life when she had cancer. I start with that to acknowledge the personal debt I owe to public services. It is a debt that we surely all feel all the more deeply, given the dedication of public service workers during this pandemic, but apparently the Chancellor does not. Yes, he talked about public services. Indeed, he mentioned them 13 times, but unfortunately this Budget is all talk, smoke and mirrors from a Government with no plan to address the three critical crises we are facing: the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis and the covid crisis. There is so much wrong with this Budget, but in the short time I have today, I will highlight five areas: universal credit, science, transport, local government and protecting our communities.

Last week, the Chancellor tried to present a benefit change as a tax cut, as he was no doubt embarrassed at imposing the highest tax burden in 70 years. But the Resolution Foundation calculates that three quarters of the 4.4 million households on universal credit will be worse off due to the Chancellor’s choices, including taking £20 per week away from each and every one of the 16,000 families on universal credit in Newcastle Central. And that is with real wages having fallen in every region of England by over £23 per week on average since the Tories came to power. That is all we

really need to know about this Government: they are making the poorest poorer while cutting taxes on Amazon and champagne. Fortunately, in Newcastle, we have generous Geordies who will support our local food bank, but they should not have to.

We do not generally think of science as a public service, but it is certainly a public good and the foundation of our future economic prosperity and global competitiveness. The Chancellor echoed the Prime Minister’s talk of a science superpower, but he went quickly over the bit where he actually broke the Prime Minister’s commitment to doubling the science spend by 2024-25, delaying it by two years at a cost of £8 billion in private sector investment. In science, as elsewhere, levelling up is nothing but a slogan. The Chancellor’s £1.4 million global Britain investment fund purports to spread economic opportunities across the UK by investing in life sciences, the automotive industry and manufacturing. Those are all sectors the north-east has considerable strengths in and they are critical for addressing climate change. Yet, for example, Government investment in life sciences is just £22 per person in the north, which is two fifths of the £55 per person invested in the south—in the midlands, it is just £16 per person. How will we deliver good, green, sustainable jobs across the north-east, and indeed in all our regions, without investment in science?

The north-east also lost out on transport. I have said many times in this House, and I will say it again, that it costs more to go four measly stops up the West Road in Newcastle than it does to traverse the whole of London on a bus. Lucy Winskell, the chair of the North East local enterprise partnership, was clear that

“government has announced significant transport investment across the rest of the North but not in the North East”.

Communities in Newcastle expect to feel safe and protected—this is the first duty of a Government—yet even when the Government’s promised police officer recruitment is completed we will still have fewer officers than we did in 2010, while police community support officer numbers have fallen by 40%. This Budget did nothing to make our communities safer by tackling the root causes of antisocial behaviour, which mars the life of so many of my constituents. Youth services are still waiting for the £500 million funding they were promised more than two years ago, which is leaving frontline youth services on their knees and young people without vital support and guidance that they need.

However, the Chancellor expects council tax payers in Newcastle to pay more, having cut central Government funding for Newcastle City Council in half. This council tax rise, made in Whitehall, will not begin to make up for the impact of inflation, never mind a decade of austerity and the demands of the social care system. All this comes while across Newcastle children play in litter because the Government will not take plastic pollution seriously or give our council the powers it deserves.

The Tories came into power in 2010 and wrecked our recovery from the financial crisis in the name of austerity. This Budget is an attempt by the Chancellor to position himself for the next Tory leadership election, claiming the credit for repairing the damage of his Tory predecessors while actually entrenching inequality and further neglecting the north. But the north will remember.

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