On Wednesday I listened to the Chancellor speak for over an hour, but from 7,973 words hardly any had anything to say to the people of Ipswich. Of course, he tried to put a gloss on the financial situation we are in, but it is not good. Real wages are lower than in 2010 and disposable income is set to fall once more in 2017. Economic growth is the lowest it has been since the Tories came to office and has now had to be revised down in every year of the forecast. Productivity and business investment have been revised down for next year and each year following. The Tories have even failed on the deficit – they promised to eradicate it by 2015, then 2016, then 2017, then 2020 only to miss all these targets. Yet the damaging policy of austerity remains.
NHS England identified an extra £4bn a year that they need to run the NHS properly. We need to pay our doctors and nurses properly – and all the other staff working in the NHS. Over half of nurses in a recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing revealed that they are working additional hours to make ends meet, and 20% are having to moonlight in other part-time jobs. We rely on our nurses to be dedicated and conscientious but that is hard for them if they are also absolutely exhausted. And nurses and doctors are voting with their feet. Already waiting lists for operations are rising. The NHS costs us 20% less per person than in France and Germany, and far less than the Americans. Labour pledged to give the NHS not just the £4bn they need to stand still, but £6bn extra per year so that we can have the best health service in the world. Instead of which, the Chancellor promised £2.8bn, and then admitted that only £330 million would be spent this year – less than a tenth of what is needed – and the rest was just promises for the future.
Apart from a small announcement on mathematics – which I support – there was no extra money for the education system. As we showed during the election campaign, this means real terms cuts for all our schools in Ipswich – and again, the very real danger of teachers voting with their feet. Nor was there any anything for the Police who, due to Tory cuts, have lost over 20,000 officers across the country, and who are seriously under-staffed in Suffolk.
After seven years of the government promising to sort out the housing crisis, it is clear their entire approach is an abject failure. There is no reason to suppose that the new houses Hammond proposed are any more likely to be built in the next four years than they were in the last four years. They promised to build 200,000 new starter homes, but three years on the number actually built stands at a big fat zero. His one policy, to abolish stamp duty for first time buyers up to £330,000, has the full support of Labour – it was our policy in our manifesto. But unless the government increases the supply of houses, financial incentives will only drive up prices, as the Office for Budgetary Responsibility has acknowledged. Yet there were no plans to directly increase building. The ONLY way to ensure that the houses we need are built in the places they are needed for the people who need them the most is to build council houses. We need the government to remove the cap on ALL local authorities, and reform the right-to-buy arrangements to cover the cost of building, so that Ipswich Borough Council – and others – can build the houses we need.
Austerity has failed. We cannot deal with the deficit just by cuts – we need to grow the economy and collect more taxes. We need to clamp down on the loopholes and off-shore tax havens which are robbing our country of the money we need to grow. And we need public investment. Public investment does not “crowd out” private investment – it stimulates and enables private investment. In Ipswich we need a northern bypass, improved rail lines especially from Felixstowe to the Midlands to support the port, new GP surgeries and schools. Without a massive public infrastructure investment scheme we will never get out of austerity. With one, we can build a country that is more productive, more environmentally friendly, better paid and fairer. That’s what we should have had in the Budget.