Jeremy Corbyn – 2017 Response to the Budget Statement

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 22 November 2017.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The reality test of this Budget has to be how it affects ordinary people’s lives. I believe, as the days go ahead and this Budget unravels, the reality will be that a lot of people will be no better off, and the misery that many are in will be continuing.

Pay is now lower than it was in 2010, and wages are now falling again. Economic growth in the first three quarters of this year is the lowest since 2009 and the slowest of the major economies in the G7. It is a record of failure, with a forecast of more to come.

Economic growth has been revised down. Productivity growth has been revised down; business investment, revised down; people’s wages and living standards, revised down. What sort of strong economy is that? What sort of “fit for the future” is that?

You may recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the deficit was due to be eradicated by 2015. Then that moved to 2016; then to 2017; then to 2020. And now we are looking at 2025. The Government are missing their major targets, but the failed and damaging policy of austerity remains.

The number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010. This year, 120,000 children will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation. Three new pilot schemes to look at rough sleeping across the whole country simply does not cut it. We want action now to help those poor people who are forced to sleep on our streets and beg for—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker

Order. I think the Whips should know better. Mr Spencer, I am sure you could relax—please, we do not need any more from you. If not, leave the Chamber.

Jeremy Corbyn

The point I was making is that three new pilot schemes for rough sleepers simply does not cut it. It is a disaster for those people sleeping on our streets and forced to beg for the money for a night shelter. They are looking for action now from Government to give them a roof over their heads.

In some parts of the country, life expectancy is actually beginning to fall. The last Labour Government lifted 1 million children out of poverty—it was an amazing achievement. Under this Government, an extra 1 million children will be plunged into poverty by the end of this Parliament. Some 1.9 million pensioners, or one in six of all pensioners, are living in poverty—the worst rate anywhere in western Europe. So, it is falling pay, slow growth and rising poverty. This is what the Chancellor has the cheek to call a strong economy.

The Chancellor’s predecessor said they would put the burden on

“those with the broadest shoulders”—[Official Report, 20 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 951]—

so how has that turned out? The poorest 10th of households will lose 10% of their income by 2022, while the richest will lose just 1%—so much for “tackling burning injustices”. This is a Government tossing fuel on the fire.

Personal debt levels are rising: 8.3 million people are over-indebted. If the Chancellor wants to help people out of debt, he should back Labour’s policy for a real living wage of £10 an hour by 2020. Working-class young people are now leaving university with £57,000-worth of debt because this Government—his Government—trebled tuition fees. The new Government policy is to win over young people by keeping fees at £9,250 per year—more debt for people who want to learn.

But that is just one of the multitudes of injustices presided over by this Government. Another is universal credit, which we called on Ministers to pause and fix. That is the view of this House. It is the verdict of those on the frontline.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con)

Keep going, Jeremy!

Mr Deputy Speaker

Mr Pincher, you shouted out “Keep going,” and the right hon. Gentleman will—but you will be going out of the Chamber.

Jeremy Corbyn

I would rather people stayed to listen, actually, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the reality—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker

Order. Silence—that’s the difference. It will be in silence.

Jeremy Corbyn

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Maybe Government Members would like to listen to Martin’s experience. A full-time worker on the minimum wage, he said:

“I get paid four weekly meaning that my pay date is different each month”.

Because, under the universal credit system, he was paid twice in a month and deemed to have earned too much, his universal credit was cut off. He says:

“This led me into rent arrears and I had to use a food bank for the first time in my life”.

That is the humiliation that he and so many others have gone through because of the problems of universal credit. Would it not have been better to pause the whole thing and look at the problems it has caused?

The Chancellor’s solution to a failing system causing more debt is to offer a loan, and a six-week wait, with 20% waiting even longer, simply becomes a five-week wait. This system has been run down by £3 billion of cuts to work allowances, the two-child limit and the perverse and appalling rape clause, and it has caused evictions because housing benefit is not paid direct to the landlord. So I say to the Chancellor again: put this system on hold so it can be fixed and keep 1 million of our children out of poverty.

For years, we have had the rhetoric of a long-term economic plan that never meets its targets when what all too many people are experiencing is long-term economic pain—and hardest hit are disabled people, single parents and women—so it is disappointing that the Chancellor did not back the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) to end period poverty. He could have done that. Well done her on the campaign; shame on him for not supporting it.

The Conservatives’ manifesto in the last election disappeared off their website after three days, and now some Ministers have put forward some half-decent proposals conspicuously borrowed from the Labour manifesto. Let me tell the Chancellor: as socialists, we are happy to share ideas. The Communities Secretary called for £50 million of borrowing to invest in house building; presumably, the Prime Minister slapped him down for wanting to bankrupt Britain. The Health Secretary has said that the pay cap is over, but where is the money to fund the pay rise?

The Chancellor has not been clear today—not for NHS workers, our police, firefighters, teachers, teaching assistants, bin collectors, tax collectors, or armed forces personnel—so will he listen to Claire? She says:

“My Mum works for the NHS. She goes above and beyond for her patients. Why does the government think it’s ok to under pay, over stress and underappreciate all that work?”

The NHS chief executive says:

“The budget for the NHS next year is well short of what is currently needed”.

From what the Chancellor has said today, it is still going to be well short of what is needed. He said in 2015 that the Government would fund another 5,000 GPs, but in the last year we have had 1,200 fewer GPs—and we have lost community nurses and mental health nurses. The Chancellor promised £10 billion in 2015 and delivered £4.5 billion. So if he does not mind, we will wait for the small print on today’s announcement—but even what he said certainly falls well short of the £6 billion Labour would have delivered from our June manifesto.

Over 1 million of our elderly are not receiving the care they need. Over £6 billion will have been cut from social care budgets by next March. [Interruption.] I hope the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) begins to understand what is like to wait for social care stuck in a hospital bed, with other people having to give up their work to care for them. The uncaring, uncouth attitude of certain Government Members has to be called out—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker

Order. Carry on.

Jeremy Corbyn

That is why social care budgets are so important for so many very desperate people in our country.

Our schools will be 5% worse off by 2019 despite the Conservative manifesto promising that no school would be worse off. Five thousand head teachers from 25 counties wrote to the Chancellor saying:

“we are simply asking for the money that is being taken out of the system to be returned”.

A senior science technician, Robert, wrote to me saying:

“My pay”

has been

“reduced by over 30%. I’ve seen massive cuts at my school. Good teachers and support staff leave.”

That is what does for the morale both of teachers and students in school. According to this Government, 5,000 head teachers are wrong, Robert is wrong, the IFS is wrong—everybody is wrong except the Chancellor.

If the Chancellor bothered to listen to what local government is saying, he would know that it has been warning that services for vulnerable children are under more demand than ever, with more children being taken into care and more in desperate need of help and support. Yet councils are labouring with a £2 billion shortfall in the cost of dealing with vulnerable children. Local councils will have lost 80% of their direct funding by 2020. The reality of this across the country is women’s refuges closing, youth centres closing, libraries closing, museums closing, and public facilities understaffed, under-resourced and under-financed—it could be so different—but compassion can cost very little. Just £10 million is needed to establish the child funeral fund campaigned for so brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). Why could not the Chancellor at least have agreed to fund that?

Under this Government, there are 20,000 fewer police officers, and another 6,000 community support officers and 11,000 fire service staff have been cut as well. You cannot keep communities safe on the cheap. Tammy explains:

“Our police presence has been taken away”

from her village

“meaning increasing crime. As a single parent I no longer feel safe in my own village, particularly”

at night.

Five and a half million workers earn less than the living wage—1 million more than five years ago. The Chancellor, last Sunday, could not even see 1.4 million people unemployed in this country. There is a crisis of low pay and insecure work affecting one in four women and one in six men, with a record 7.4 million people in working households living in poverty. If we want workers earning better pay and less dependent on in-work benefits, we need strong trade unions—the most effective way of boosting workers’ pay. Instead, this Government weakened trade unions and introduced employment tribunal fees, now scrapped thanks to the victory in the courts by Unison—a trade union representing its members.

Why did not the Chancellor take the opportunity to make two changes to control debt: first, to cap credit card debt, so that nobody pays back more than they borrowed; and secondly, to stop credit card companies increasing people’s credit limit without their say-so? Debt is being racked up because the Government are weak on those who exploit people, such as rail companies hiking fares above inflation year on year, and water companies and energy suppliers. During the general election, the Conservatives promised an energy cap that would benefit

“around 17 million families on standard variable tariffs”,

but every bill tells millions of families that the Government have broken that promise.

With £10 billion in housing benefit going into the pockets of private landlords every year, housing is a key factor in driving up the welfare bill. There were not too many words from the Chancellor about excessive rents in the private rented sector. With this Government delivering the worst rate of house building since the 1920s and a quarter of a million fewer council homes, any commitment would be welcome, but we have been here before. The Government promised 200,000 starter homes three years ago; not a single one has been built in those three years. We need a large-scale, publicly funded house building programme, not this Government’s accounting tricks and empty promises. Yes, we back the abolition in stamp duty for first-time buyers—because it was another Labour policy in our manifesto in June, not a Tory one.

This Government’s continual preference for spin over substance means that across this country the words “northern powerhouse” and “midlands engine” are now met with derision. Yorkshire and Humber gets only a 10th of the transport investment per head given to London. Government figures show that every region in the north of England has seen a fall in spending on services since 2012. The midlands, east and west, receives less than 8% of total transport infrastructure investment, compared with the 50% that goes to London. In the east and west midlands, one in four workers is paid less than the living wage—so much for the midlands engine. Re-announced funding for the trans-Pennine rail route will not cut it, and today’s other announcements will not redress the balance.

Combined with counterproductive austerity, this lack of investment has consequences in sluggish growth and shrinking pay packets. Public investment has virtually halved. Under this Government, Britain has the lowest rate of public investment in the G7, but it is now investing in driverless cars, after months of road testing back-seat driving in the Government.

By moving from RPI to CPI indexation on business rates, the Chancellor has adopted another Labour policy, but why do the Government not go further and adopt Labour’s entire business rates pledge, including exempting plant and machinery, and an annual revaluation of business rates?

Nowhere has the Government’s chaos been more evident than over Brexit. Following round after round of fruitless Brexit negotiations, the Brexit Secretary has been shunted out for the Prime Minister, who has got no further. Every major business organisation has written to the Government, telling them to pull their finger out and get on with it. Businesses are delaying crucial investment decisions, and if this Government do not get their act together, those businesses will soon be taking relocation decisions.

Crashing out with no deal and turning Britain into a tax haven would damage people’s jobs and living standards, serving only a wealthy few. It is not as though this Government are not doing their best to protect tax havens and their clients in the meantime. The Paradise papers have again exposed how a super-rich elite is allowed to get away with dodging taxes. This Government have opposed measure after measure in this House—their Tory colleagues have done the same in the European Parliament—to clamp down on the tax havens that facilitate this outrageous leaching from our public purse. Non-paid tax and clever reinvestment to get away with tax hit hospitals, schools and housing, and they hit the poorest and most needy in our society. There is nothing moral about dodging tax; there is everything immoral about evading it.

Too often, it feels as though there is one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest of us. The horrors of Grenfell Tower were a reflection of a system that puts profits before people and that fails to listen to working-class communities. In 2013, the Government received advice in a coroner’s report that sprinklers should be fitted in all high-rise buildings. Today, once again, the Government failed to fund the £1 billion investment needed. The Chancellor says that councils should contact them, but Nottingham and Westminster have done so, and they have been refused; nothing was offered to them. We have the privilege of being Members of Parliament, in a building that is about to be retrofitted with sprinklers to protect us. The message is pretty clear: this Government care more about what happens here than about what happens to people living in high-rise homes, in effect saying that they matter less.

Our country is marked by growing inequality and injustice. We were promised, with lots of hype, a revolutionary Budget, but the reality is that nothing has changed. People were looking for help from this Budget, and they have been let down by a Government who, like the economy that they have presided over, are weak and unstable, and in need of urgent change. They call this a Budget fit for the future; the reality is that they are a Government no longer fit for office.