Response to the Budget

Jeremy Corbyn: The Budget the Chancellor has just delivered is actually the culmination of six years of his failures. It is a Budget—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. This corner of the Chamber by the Chair is not some kind of fairground attraction. We expect courtesy from both sides of the House whoever is speaking. I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition and, as I said before, I know that the public in this country want to hear what the Opposition have to say as well.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

It is a recovery built on sand and a Budget of failure. The Chancellor has failed on the budget deficit, failed on debt, failed on investment, failed on productivity, failed on the trade deficit, failed on the welfare cap and failed to tackle inequality in this country. Today he has announced that growth is revised down last year, this year and every year he has forecast. Business investment is revised down and Government investment is revised down. It is a very good thing that the Chancellor is blaming the last Government—he was the Chancellor in the last Government.

This Budget has unfairness at its very core, paid for by those who can least afford it. The Chancellor could not have made his priorities clearer. While half a million people with disabilities are losing over £1 billion in personal independence payments, corporation tax is being cut and billions handed out in tax cuts to the very wealthy.

The Chancellor has said that he has to be judged on his record and by the tests he set himself. Six years ago, he promised a balanced structural current budget by 2015. It is now 2016—there is still no balanced budget. In 2010, he and the Prime Minister claimed, “We’re all in it together.” The Chancellor promised this House that the richest would

“pay more than the poorest, not just in terms of cash but as a proportion of income as well.”

So let me tell him how that has turned out. The Institute for Fiscal Studies—an independent organisation—found that “the poorest have” suffered “the greatest proportionate losses.” The Prime Minister told us recently that he was delivering “a strong economy” and “a sound plan”—but strong for who? Strong to support who, and sound for who, when 80% of the public spending cuts have fallen on women in our society? This Budget could have been a chance to demonstrate a real commitment to fairness and equality; yet again, the Chancellor has failed.

Five years ago—they were great words—the Chancellor promised “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”.

Soaring rhetoric, yet despite the resilience, ingenuity and hard work of manufacturers, the manufacturing sector is now smaller that it was eight years ago. Last year, he told the Conservative conference, “We are the builders”, but ever since then the construction industry has been stagnating. This is the record of a Conservative Chancellor who has failed to balance the books, failed to balance out the pain and failed to rebalance our economy. It is no wonder that his close friend, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), is complaining that, “we were told for the next seven years things were looking great. Within one month of that forecast, we’re now being told that things are difficult”.

The gulf between what the Conservative Government expect from the wealthiest and what they demand from ordinary British taxpayers could not be greater. The “mate’s rates” deals for big corporations on tax deals is something they will be for ever remembered for. This is a Chancellor who has produced a Budget for hedge fund managers more than for small businesses. This is a Government—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Mr Williamson—I do not know what it is but you always want to catch my attention. Let me assure you—you have got my attention, so let us make sure you do not get it again.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

This is a Government who stood by as the steel industry bled. Skills, output and thousands of very skilled jobs have been lost, and communities ruined and damaged, by the inaction of the Government. The Chancellor set himself a £1 trillion export target; it is going to be missed by a lot more than a country mile. Instead of trade fuelling growth, as he promised, it is now holding back growth. He talked of the northern powerhouse. We now discover that 97% of the senior staff in the northern powerhouse have been outsourced to London—to the south. For all his talk of the northern powerhouse, the north-east accounts for less than 1% of Government infrastructure pipeline projects in construction. For all his rhetoric, there has been systematic under-investment in the north.

Across the country, local authorities—councils—are facing massive problems, with a 79% cut in their funding. Every library that has been closed, every elderly person left without proper care, and every swimming pool with reduced opening hours or closed altogether is a direct result of the Government underfunding our local authorities and councils.

Far from presiding over good-quality employment, he is the Chancellor who has presided over under- employment and insecurity, with nearly—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Certain people are testing my patience, so just think what your constituents are thinking out there as well. I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition and I expect you to hear the Leader of the Opposition. If you do not want to hear him, I am sure the Tea Room awaits. Perhaps there will be a phone call for Mr Hoare if he keeps shouting.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Security comes from knowing what your income is and knowing where your job is. If you are one of those nearly 1 million people on a zero-hours contract, you do not know what your income is: you do not have that security. We have the highest levels of in-work poverty on record and the largest number of people without security. They need regular wages that can end poverty and can bring about real security in their lives. Logically, low-paid jobs do not bring in the tax revenues that the Chancellor tells us he needs to balance his books. Household borrowing is once again being relied on to drive growth. Risky unsecured lending is growing at its fastest rate for the past eight years, and that is clearly not sustainable.

The renewables industry is vital to the future of our economy and our planet—indeed, our whole existence. It has been targeted for cuts, with thousands of jobs lost in the solar panel production industry. The Prime Minister, as we discussed earlier at Prime Minister’s Question Time, promised “the greenest Government ever”—here again, an abject failure. Science spending is also down, by £1 billion compared with 2010.

Home ownership is down under this Conservative Government. A whole generation is locked out of any prospect of owning their own home. This is the Chancellor who believes that a starter home costing £450,000 is affordable. It might be for some of his friends and for some Conservative Members, but not for those people who are trying to save for a deposit because they cannot get any other kind of house.

We have heard promises of garden cities before. Two years ago, the Chancellor pledged a garden city of 15,000 homes in Ebbsfleet, and many cheered that. His Ministers have been very busy ever since then—they have made 30 Ebbsfleet announcements, and they have managed to build 368 homes in Ebbsfleet. That is 12 homes for every press release. We obviously need a vast increase in press releases in order to get any homes built in Ebbsfleet, or indeed anywhere else.

While we welcome the money that will be put forward to tackle homelessness, it is the product of under-investment, underfunding of local authorities, not building enough council housing and not regulating the private rented sector. That is what has led to this crisis. We need to tackle the issue of homelessness by saying that everybody in our society deserves a safe roof over their head.

Child poverty is forecast to rise every year in this Parliament. What a damning indictment of this Government, and what a contrast to the last Labour Government, who managed to lift almost 1 million children out of poverty.

Eighty-one per cent of the tax increases and benefit cuts are falling on women, and the 19% gender pay gap persists. Despite the Chancellor’s protestations, it is a serious indictment that women are generally paid less than men for doing broadly similar work. It will require a Labour Government to address that.

The Government’s own social mobility commissioner said that, “there is a growing sense…that Britain’s best days are behind us rather than ahead”, as the next generation expects to be worse off than the last. The Chancellor might have said a great deal about young people, but he failed to say anything about the debt levels that so many former students have; the high rents that young people have to pay; the lower levels of wages that young people get; and the sense of injustice and insecurity that so many young people in this country face and feel every day. It will again require a Labour Government to harness the enthusiasms, talent and energy of the young people of this country.

Investing in public services is vital to people’s wellbeing—I think we are all agreed on that, or at least I hope we are—yet every time the Chancellor fails, he cuts services, cuts jobs, sells assets and further privatises. That was very clear when we looked at the effects of the floods last year. Flood defences were cut by 27%. People’s homes in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria were ruined because of his Government’s neglect of river basin management and the flood defences that are so necessary.

Obviously, we welcome any money that is now going into flood defences, but I hope that that money will also be accompanied by a reversal of the cuts in the fire service that make it so difficult for our brilliant firefighters to protect people in their homes, and a reversal of the cuts in the Environment Agency that make it so hard for those brilliant engineers to protect our towns and cities, and for those local government workers who performed so brilliantly during the crisis in December and January in those areas that were flooded.

Our education service invests in people. It is a vital motor for the future wealth of this country, so why has there been a 35% drop in the adult skills budget under this Government? People surely need the opportunity to learn, and they should not have to go into debt in order to develop skills from which we as a community entirely benefit.

On the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that turning schools into academies boosts performance. There is nothing in the Budget to deal with the real issues of teacher shortage, the school place crisis and ballooning class sizes.

The Chancellor spoke at length about the issue of ill health among young children and the way in which sugar is consumed at such grotesque levels in society. I agree with him and welcome what he said. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the work done by many Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and by Jamie Oliver in helping to deal with the dreadful situation with children’s health. If we as a society cannot protect our children from high levels of sugar and all that goes with that, including later health crises of cancer and diabetes, we as a House will have failed the nation. I support the Chancellor’s proposals on sugar, and I hope all other Members do, too.

There is an issue, however, that faces the national health service: the deficit has widened to its highest level on record, waiting times are up and the NHS is in a critical condition. Hospital after hospital faces serious financial problems and is working out what to sell in order to balance its books. Our NHS should have the resources to concentrate on the health needs of the people; it should not have to get rid of resources in order to survive. The Public Accounts Committee reported only yesterday that NHS finances have “deteriorated at a severe and rapid pace”.

I did not detect much in this Budget that is going to do much to resolve that crisis. The Chancellor has also cut public health budgets, mental health budgets and adult social care.

Earlier this month the Government forced through a £30 per week cut to disabled employment and support allowance claimants—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. There are people having conversations on the Front Bench. If you need to have a conversation, I am sure there is plenty of room in the Tea Room for you.

Jeremy Corbyn: Last week we learned that 500,000 people will lose up to £150 per week due to cuts to personal independence payments. I simply ask the Chancellor: if he can finance his Budget giveaways to different sectors, why can he not fund the need for dignity for the disabled people of this country?

The Chancellor said in the autumn statement that he had protected police budgets, but Sir Andrew Dilnot confirms that there has been a decrease in the police grant, while 18,000 police officers have lost their jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) pointed out in her question to the Prime Minister earlier, in order to cut down on dangerous crime against vulnerable individuals we need community policing and community police officers. Eighteen thousand of them losing their jobs does not help. This Government have failed on the police, the national health service, social care, housing and education.

Public investment lays the foundations for future growth, as the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the G20 all recognise. The CBI and the TUC are crying out for more infrastructure investment. It is Labour that will invest in the future—in a high-technology, high-skill, high-wage economy.

The investment commitments that the Chancellor has made today are, of course, welcome, but they are belated and nowhere near the scale this country needs. People will rightly fear that this is just another press release on the road to the non-delivery of crucial projects.

The chronic under-investment—both public and private—presided over by this Chancellor means that the productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, which has been revised down further today, we cannot hope to improve living standards. The Labour party backs a strategic state that understands that businesses, public services, innovators and workers combine together to create wealth and drive sustainable growth.

The Chancellor adopted a counter-productive fiscal rule. The Treasury Committee responded by saying that it was “not convinced that the surplus rule is credible”, and it is right. The Chancellor is locking Britain into an even deeper cycle of low investment, low productivity and low ambition. We will be making the positive case for Britain to remain in the European Union and all the solidarity that can bring.

Over the past six years, the Chancellor has set targets on the deficit, on debt, on productivity, on manufacturing and construction, and on exports. He has failed them all and he is failing Britain.

There are huge opportunities for this country to build on the talent and efforts of everyone, but the Chancellor is more concerned about protecting vested interests. The price of failure is being borne by some of the most vulnerable in our society. The disabled are being robbed of up to £150 a week. Those are not the actions of a responsible statesperson; they are the actions of a cruel and callous Government who side with the wrong people and punish the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society.

The Chancellor was defeated when he tried to make tax credit cuts from next month by the House opposing them, and by Labour Members and Cross Benchers in the Lords. The continuation of austerity that he has confirmed today, particularly in the area of local government spending, is a political choice, not an economic necessity. It locks us into a continued cycle of economic failure and personal misery. The Labour party will not stand by while more poverty and inequality blight this country. We will oppose those damaging choices and make the case for an economy in which prosperity is shared by all.

Let us harness the optimism, the enthusiasm, the hope and the energy of young people. Let us not burden them with debts and unaffordable housing, low-wage jobs and zero-hours contracts, but instead act in an intergenerational way to give young people the opportunities and the chances they want to build a better, freer, more equal and more content Britain. The Chancellor has proved that he is utterly incapable of doing so with his Budget today.