John McDonnell: Tories’ tax giveaway for bankers means austerity for our children

John McDonnell

On Monday night this government, propped up with the grubby support of the DUP, shamefully supported a finance bill that ignored some of the most vulnerable children in our society but continued to hand out billions in tax giveaways to bankers.

Before last month’s Budget, Philip Hammond was warned by Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive at Action for Children, warned that urgent action was needed before the “crisis” in our children’s services “turns into a catastrophe for the next generation of children and families.”

Despite this, and behind all the fanfare and choreographed jokes delivered by the chancellor that day, he chose to ignore those warnings. This week, in the face of an unprecedented crisis in our public services and with our children’s services at tipping point, Tory MPs trooped through the lobbies to support a finance bill that presses ahead with nearly £5bn of tax giveaways to the largest banks but will not offer a single additional penny for the services on which our most vulnerable children rely.

Central government funding for early intervention to support children and their families has been cut by 55 per cent over the last seven years, a total cost of £1.7bn. The Local Government Association forecasted a £2bn funding gap by 2020, were cuts to continue.

Those spending cuts mean support for foster care, adoption and Sure Start children’s centres being cut. Youth centres being closed and parenting classes being axed. Short breaks for disabled children, provided by local councils to give their parents a little respite from often full-time care taken away. Taken together, it means that some of the most vulnerable children in our society are turned into the victims.

The result of these cuts is appallingly clear. Cuts to early years intervention have meant a record number of children, some 72,000 last year, now being taken into care. The human, social and financial cost of these cuts have been dire. The number of serious child protection cases has doubled in the last seven years, with 500 new cases launched each day. More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection plans last year, double the number seven years ago.

So Philip Hammond had a choice, because austerity was always a political choice, not an economic necessity. He could continue with the tax giveaways to the super-rich and the corporations that have been the hallmark of Conservative chancellors since 2010. Or he could choose to end the crisis in our children’s services.

But the chancellor made his decision. The bank levy, introduced shortly after the global financial crisis, is to be cut further while vulnerable children continue to be ignored. The banking surcharge, supposedly introduced to compensate the taxpayer for this loss, won’t come close to making good the difference.

This giveaway comes at a time when bankers’ bonuses are returning rapidly to their pre-crash levels, rising nearly 10 per cent in the last year to £15bn. Whilst wages and living standards for most of us have fallen more than at any time since the industrial revolution, those at the top and particularly those at the top in financial services clearly feel the good times have returned under this Conservative government.

Yet he and the Tories continue to hand out more and more cash to those who have the most. It’s not too hard to guess why: over a quarter of Conservative Party funding in recent years has come from finance, including nearly 17 per cent from hedge funds alone. Money talks, and it has the ear of this Conservative Party leadership when vulnerable children clearly do not.

Labour in government will reverse those cuts, and end the giveaways to the bankers. We want a finance system that works in the interest of the many, not the very few at the top – paying its taxes, not helping out with tax avoidance, and delivering the investment new industries and jobs will need. But the money for our children’s services needs to be delivered right now to end the brewing crisis. The government can make a different choice in Parliament, it can throw out the bank levy cuts, and deliver the funding our children’s services urgently need.

If this government chooses to continue supporting this finance bill as it goes through parliament, the message will be clear: protecting bankers is a greater priority for this government than protecting our most vulnerable children.

John McDonnell is shadow chancellor and MP for Hayes and Harlington.

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