Emma Hardy – 2023 Speech on the Budget

The speech made by Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, in the House of Commons on 20 March 2023.

It is good to see you back, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This Budget has been described as being “slightly better” than the previous Prime Minister’s Budget, which crashed the economy. At least during the delivery of this Budget statement we were not watching on our phones as the pound plummeted, but what a low bar to reach above. Nothing says “clutching at straws” like the staged cheering of a “pothole fund”, whose very existence tells us that routine road maintenance has been starved of funds—another example of the managed decline that we have seen after 13 long years of Conservative rule.

This Budget is weak and unambitious. It is a sticking plaster, an attempt to fix mistakes that consecutive Conservative chancellors have made, and it does nothing to address the real problems that people face. What does it give us? We find ourselves facing the biggest drop in living standards on record. The average French family is now a tenth richer and the average German family a fifth richer than their British counterparts. Wages are now lower in real terms than they were 13 years ago. This stalling wage growth has left British workers £11,000 a year worse off. Taxes as a share of GDP are at a 30-year high, which is the equivalent of every household paying £4,600 more tax each year than in 2019-20. The OECD has said that the UK economy is the weakest in the G7. The only other country that is set to have a lower rate of growth and more contraction of its economy is Russia.

Why is this? The Government want to point to international factors such as covid and Ukraine, but those factors do not explain away the unique situation that the UK is facing. Yes, the Conservatives’ Brexit deal has had an impact, but these roots go far deeper. The roots of our economic difficulties go back to austerity in 2010, and the utter chaos and dysfunction at the heart of Government since 2016. The British people are literally paying the price for the internal wars within the Conservative party. Let us be honest: the Conservative party has no strategy and no plan to grow our economy, because the Conservative party no longer knows who it is or what it stands for. We are seeing that again this week as the soap opera continues, and the headlines about what the former Prime Minister did hit the newspapers instead of a real analysis of what is happening to the cost of living crisis.

We see another example when we look at the Conservatives’ desperate attempt to form an economic plan. In January 2020 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy introduced an industrial strategy that promised five foundations of productivity. That lasted only a year. In the spring of 2021 the Budget abolished the industrial strategy and replaced it with “Build Back Better: our plan for growth”, which contained three core pillars of growth. That lasted less than a year. In February 2022 the Chancellor—now the Prime Minister—abolished the pillars and the foundations, and introduced three priorities for growth. That lasted seven months. In September 2022 the Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), left out the pillars, foundations and priorities in favour of a growth plan—the less said about that, the better. It lasted four months. In January 2023 the new Chancellor brought back the pillars, but managed to increase their number from three to four. So far, that has lasted three months. What an utter farce! No wonder business investment is the lowest in the G7. There have been five plans for growth in one Parliament, and as a result of this incompetence GDP has fallen by 0.2%.

Who are the winners? As usual, the richest 1% gain from a Conservative Budget via the changes to pensions, at a cost of £.1 billion for the rest of the taxpayers. As for the ludicrous claim that this is all about helping the doctors, I gently suggest that if the Government want to help the doctors and get more of them back working for the NHS, they should go and talk to the junior doctors who are currently on strike.

Who are the other winners? Let us have a look at those. Research and development “claim farms” are exploiting the low level of scrutiny of tax reliefs. R&D relief is the largest co-operative tax relief, predicted to cost more than £9 billion by 2026-27. A recent report from the charity TaxWatch revealed that highly profitable finance companies are claiming millions in relief. Boundary-pushing is rife. Fraud and error in R&D totalled more than £1.1 billion in the last three years, and our HMRC is too under-resourced even to look at it properly. The Government were prepared to chase people who were accidentally overpaid in benefits and pensions more than companies that were exploiting the system.

This Budget is a continuation of the pattern of managed decline, and it makes me so angry that our brilliant country is being let down in this way. It is a Budget from a tired, fractious, divided and desperate Government, focused so much on the enemies within and not enough on the real struggles that people out there are facing. It is a Budget with nothing to say on social care, NHS waiting lists or the millions without access to NHS dentists. It is a Budget that fails to learn the lessons of the past, with the only growth we see being in claim farms in R&D relief and in the very richest in society. Our country can be and will be so much better than this when we consign these farcical plans for pillars, foundations and priorities to the past and get in a new Labour Government who will put working people first.