Tory Spring Budget – still failing the people and businesses in Newcastle

HANSARD:

Chi Onwurah 
(Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I shall of course be guided by you.

It is now almost 14 years since I first had the immense honour and privilege of being elected to the best job in the world—Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central —but over those 14 years it has been heartbreaking and outrageous in equal measure to see the consequences for my constituents of Tory economic failure. First, we had austerity: the cruel gutting of communities, public services and jobs, which dampened growth instead of driving it. Tory austerity is why the Resolution Foundation tells us that the average wage will not return to its 2008 level until 2026.

We then had covid: a global pandemic, but one that disproportionately impacted the very communities—the poor, the black and minoritised, the unwell and infirm, and the disabled and disadvantaged—which austerity had undermined and weakened, while straining our NHS to breaking point, yet members of the Conservative Government saw it as an opportunity to help their mates get rich. My hon. Friends in the Opposition have destroyed the fake Tory fig leaf that everything was rosy before covid.

Then we had a cost of living crisis made in Downing Street, with energy and food prices, mortgages, rents and transport costs all soaring. The Budget was the Tories’ last chance to try to repair the damage they had done and stop the rot, and what did we get? More of the same failed economic policy that has plunged us into recession.

My constituents work incredibly hard to provide for themselves and their families, and local businesses are also working hard through the Tory economic gloom. We can see that in our fantastic start-ups, spin outs and scale-ups and Newcastle’s world-renowned hospitality sector, which offers so many from all over the world a great Geordie welcome as well as adding £361 million of gross value added each year to my constituency. I note that UKHospitality said that the Budget offered little for this sector with so much growth potential.

Labour Members believe that work should pay; the Tories’ broken economic model increasingly means that, too often, it does not. The average person in the north-east is £11,500 worse off since 2010 than if the economy had grown at the rate it did under Labour. Shamefully, child poverty across the north-east of England has climbed by more than a third since 2014-15 according to the End Child Poverty coalition. Increasingly, those children’s parents are in work. The North East Child Poverty Commission found that the proportion of north-east children in poverty who are from working families has risen from 56% to 67%—more than 10 percentage points—in under a decade. I put on record my gratitude 

to both those organisations and to other researchers for their work. I only wish that the Government would take their evidence as seriously as it demands.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to wish you and all women, as well as our allies, a happy International Women’s Day for tomorrow. I also want to highlight the particular struggles of women in my region. Our economic troubles and the running down of public services have meant that many Geordie women face spiralling problems with debt, poverty and housing and are struggling to access mental and physical healthcare. In its recent report, Changing Lives, a charity working with vulnerable women in the north-east, found that

“women living in the North East are more likely to live shorter lives, to spend a larger proportion of time living in poor health, and to die prematurely from preventable diseases.”

At-risk women in the north-east are 1.7 times more likely to die early as a result of suicide, addiction or domestic murder, compared with the average for England and Wales.

That is just a disgrace—a Tory disgrace—and it perfectly demonstrates the human cost of bad government. If we had had Labour’s workforce plan in place, the NHS back on its feet and able to provide consistent, high-quality care and productivity improvements, Labour’s new deal for working people to give people security in work, and action on housing, poverty and bills, the difference that that would have made would have been life-changing and lifesaving.

I was disappointed to hear nothing in the Budget about the Government’s approach to the loan charge scandal. A constituent who retired after a lifetime of hard work is being bombarded with letters from HMRC threatening him with retrospective demands and a possible bill of £50,000—we can imagine how he is enjoying his retirement. The issue absolutely needs an independent review.

The Chancellor and the Government have failed my constituents, failed to make work pay and failed to get the economy growing. The tax burden is at a 70-year high, so I of course welcome the cut to national insurance contributions. However, Rishi’s tax double take means that households will be £870 worse off on average.

I also welcome the new devolution deal for the north-east, but my constituents would be much better off if the Conservatives got the basics right in our economy, providing the vital change we need in housing, energy, industrial strategy, transport and so on. The North East Mayor, who will be elected in May, will have a difficult job to fix the Tory’s mess. Fortunately, Kim McGuinness, our excellent Labour candidate, is determined to hand power to our communities and to create real opportunity for everyone who lives in the north-east, and a Labour Government would be the partner she needs.

This Budget has been determined by politics and by attempts to manage Tory divisions and to desperately save the skin of Tory Members, instead of doing the responsible thing. Look at the way the Government have adopted some of the Opposition’s proposals on non-dom tax regimes—not as part of a long-term plan, but because they have been bounced into it.

My constituents do not care about Tory infighting; they are sick of it. They want to see real action to kick-start our economy through stability, reform and investment. That is what Labour is offering. Our industrial strategy would bring together our excellent universities across the north-east, our skilled workforce and our deep capital markets to turbocharge growth in constituencies such as mine. In fact, we have a plan for the life sciences —“A Prescription for Growth”, which I highly recommend —to help grow the economy and get the NHS back on its feet.

Labour would support businesses in Newcastle through our plans on business rates, skills and the planning system and would get Britain building again. We would bring bills down by switching on Great British Energy, a new British company that will create new, high-paid jobs across the north, reduce bills and leave us less dependent on tyrants such as Putin.

This morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, the presenter interviewing the Chancellor set out just some of the facts and figures that demonstrate Tory economic failure. The Chancellor responded by saying that such a characterisation was unworthy of the BBC—well, he had just been called “the fiscal drag queen”, which clearly annoyed him, but that is no excuse for saying that facts, figures and evidence are unworthy of our national broadcaster. The Government would do better in reminding their Ministers—in particular the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, whose libel bill the taxpayer has just paid—that facts matter.

Labour’s evidence-based, mission-driven Government would give the people of Newcastle upon Tyne Central our future back. Yet again, this Budget will only hold them back. We need a general election, and a change of Government.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2024-03-07/debates/24030716000001/BudgetResolutions#contribution-277630B1-90F0-4038-8ACE-779B098F4A60

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