For all the Government’s claims that ‘austerity is over’, yesterday’s Budget fell well short of what is required to give much needed relief to vital public services, after years of drastic cuts. The Chancellor’s speech contained many a bad joke, but the funding announcements he made alongside them are no laughing matter.
There was no new funding announced for the NHS, just a repeat of promises earlier this year for a £20bn increase in funding, which is“simply not enough” according to the Health Foundation. This includes the £2bn promised for spending on mental health services by 2023/24, which is nowhere near the amount experts say is need to deliver vital improvements, and leaves those needing immediate access to these services with an unacceptably long wait. With demand for mental health services continuing to rise, this situation is not sustainable, as I said in a letter to the Chancellor ahead of the budget.
The £400 million of in-year funding for schools to spend on ‘the little extras’ demonstrates just how removed the Tories are from the reality of our struggling schools, many of whom have been forced to reduce staffing levels, cut back on targeted support for children with special needs and disabilities, and in some cases drop whole subject from the curriculum. While the Government continues to make inaccurate claims that schools are receiving record levels of investment, per pupil funding has actually fallen by 8% since 2010.
While Hammond’s statement indicated that the Government are paying attention to calls for drastic improvements to Universal Credit, which is continuing to push people in to poverty, his concessions did not go far enough. The £1.7bn he promised to add to the UC budget by way of an increase in work allowances may sound like a lot, but is only half the amount previously cut from the programme by his predecessor George Osborne.
Despite writing to the Chancellor in advance of the Budget (alongside other MPs, council leaders and trade unions) to ask for additional funds for councils in England, Hammond did nothing to address the shortfall in local government funding across the country. Local councils face a funding gap of £7.8bn by 2025 and are being cut by £1.3bn next year alone. While he may have promised councils access to a £420m fund to undertake road repairs, the Chancellor leaves them in an increasingly difficult position when it comes to the funding of social care for children, older people, and those with long term disabilities.
With much emphasis on potholes and public toilets, the Chancellor did nothing to address the crisis facing police forces across the country. Not a single penny of additional funding was promised, despite huge cuts to the number of officers and a very worrying rise in violent crime. Instead, Hammond said that the Home Secretary will review police spending power and “further options for reform” when he presents the provisional police funding settlement in December. I will be presenting my petition to increase police funding for Avon and Somerset Constabulary to the Government in advance of this. It was deeply alarming that the Budget did not mention climate change once. Only two weeks ago, the world’s climate scientists issued us with a stark warning, that we have just 12 years to prevent a catastrophic tipping point. But instead of a Budget with major investment to help us transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050, we were offered only tokenistic policies.
His biggest announcement of £10million for tackling abandoned waste was little more than a way of making a joke about how the Shadow Chancellor fell over some fly-tipping.
And disappointingly, his proposed tax on single use plastics will not, as the Chancellor claimed, “transform the economics of sustainable packaging”, when recycling rates have stalled and the sector has had years of chronic under-investment. It won’t be introduced until April 2022, and even then only on plastic packaging which does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic – a token amount, which suggests this policy is more for appearances. The Chancellor also rejected calls for a ‘latte levy’, despite evidence it’s the most effective way of getting consumers to use their own cup. The £60 million for tree planting and £13 million for flood risk management are, indeed, welcome. However these are massively dwarfed by the Government’s continuing promise to remove tax barriers to new investment in oil and gas exploration in the North Sea – and not to mention the Government’s insistence on allowing fracking, despite 30 earthquakes having been recorded in Lancashire since fracking was resumed two weeks ago.