“It’s time for change. People have had enough” – McDonnell’s Spring Statement response

John McDonnell

Below is the full text of John McDonnell’s response to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement.

Let me thank the Chancellor for providing me with an early sight of his statement – no matter how heavily redacted. We have just witnessed a display by the Chancellor of this government’s toxic mix of callous, brutal complacency over austerity and its grotesque incompetence over the handling of Brexit.

Whilst teachers are having to pay for the materials their pupils need; working parents are struggling to manage as schools close early and their children are sent home. 5,000 of our fellow citizens will be sleeping in the cold and wet on our streets tonight. Young people being stabbed to death in rising numbers. And, the Chancellor turns up today to threaten us that austerity can only end if we accept a bad Brexit deal. Let’s look at some of the Chancellor’s claims.

The Chancellor has boasted about the OBR forecast of 1.2% growth this year. What he hasn’t mentioned is that the forecast has been downgraded from 1.6% – downgrading forecasts is a pattern under this Chancellor. In November 2016, forecasts for the following year were downgraded from 2.2% to 1.4%. In autumn 2017, forecasts for the following year were downgraded from 1.6% to 1.4%.

Economists are warning that what growth there is the economy is largely being sustained by consumption based upon high levels of household debt. The Chancellor is boasting about bringing down debt. Let’s remind him that when Labour left office having to bail out his mates in the City – many of them Tory donors – the nation’s debt stood at £1 trillion. They have borrowed for failure and added another three quarters of a trillion to the debt. More than any Labour government ever.

He is also boasting about the deficit. He has not eliminated the deficit. He has simply shifted it onto the shoulders of Headteachers, NHS managers, local councillors, police commissioners and worst of all, onto the backs of many of the poorest in our society. The consequences are stark. Infant mortality has increased. Life expectancy has reduced. Our communities are less safe.

Police budgets have faced cuts of £2.7b since 2010 and nothing the Chancellor has said today will make up for the human and economic costs of those cuts. The Chancellor talks about “a balanced approach”. There is nothing balanced about the government giving over £110bn of tax cuts to the rich and corporations whilst 87 people die every day before they receive the care they need.

The number of children coming into care has increased every year for nine years. Benefits freezes and the roll out of universal credit are forcing people into foodbanks to survive. One million pensioners are living in severe poverty. A government condemned by the UN for inflicting destitution on its citizens. And there’s nothing balanced about a government investing £4,155 per head in London on transport, and the North only £1,600.

Where a male child born in Kensington Liverpool can expect to live 18 years less than a child born in Kensington and Chelsea. And this is the government that has largely broken the historic link between securing a job and lifting yourself out of poverty.

The Chancellor refers to a “remarkable jobs story”. What’s remarkable is that this government has created a large-scale jobs market of low pay, long hours, precarious employment. Over 2.5 million people working below 15 hours a week. 3.8 million people are in insecure work. Average weekly wages are still below the level of ten years ago. It’s hardly surprising that four and a half million children are living in poverty, nearly two thirds in households where someone is in work.

The Chancellor brags about his record on youth unemployment. But let’s be clear, youth unemployment is over 7% higher than the national average. It is higher than the OECD average and is at appalling levels for some communities. 26% of young black people are unemployed. 23% of young people from a Bangladeshi or Pakistani background are unemployed.

The Chancellor claims that female unemployment is at a record low. What he doesn’t say is that women make up 73% of those in part-time employment and are disproportionately affected by precarious work. The income of single mothers by 2020 will have fallen by 18% since 2010. And according to the much-respected Women’s Budget Group, women are facing the highest pay gap for full time employees since 1999. All on his watch.

The Chancellor claims he is on his way to delivering record sustained levels of public capital investment. Let’s be clear. He’s talking about wish lists. He’s not talking about what the Conservatives have actually done. The UK ranks close to the bottom of OECD countries for public investment. We are 24th out of 32 countries, according to analysis done by the TUC.

The Chancellor describes “the biggest rail investment programme since Victorian times”. Tell that to the people who faced the timetabling chaos of last year. Tell that to the rail passengers who have to deal with the incomparable incompetence of the Transport Secretary.

The Chancellor hails his announcement of a National Infrastructure Strategy. Let me remind the House. The government announced a National Infrastructure Delivery Plan for 2016 to 2021. Then it announced a national Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline. Plans. Pipelines. Strategies.

And today, yet another review of financing mechanisms announced. But no real action to deliver for our businesses and communities. The Institute for Government described this government’s decisions on infrastructure as “inconsistent and subject to constant change”.

And on housing, let’s hope the Chancellor has learned the lessons of their recent initiatives, which have driven profits of companies like Persimmon to over a billion pounds, with bosses’ bonuses over a hundred million pounds.

The Chancellor has some cheek to speak about technical and vocational skills. Almost a quarter of all funding to further and adult education has been cut since 2010. The number of people starting apprenticeships has fallen by 26%.

On research and development, this government has slashed capital funding for science across all departments by 50%. Unlike at the Budget, the Chancellor has at last actually referred to climate change. The review of biodiversity might – hopefully – show that the Budget of Natural England, the body responsible for biodiversity in England has more than halved over a decade.

A review of carbon offsets might reveal that they do not reduce emissions. And offsetting schemes like the Clean Development Mechanism have been beset by gaming and fraud. This from a government that removed that removed the Climate Change Levy exemption for renewables, that scrapped feed-in tariffs for new small scale renewable generation, and that cancelled the Zero Carbon Homes policy.

Gordon Brown pledged a Zero Carbon Homes standard. The Tories scrapped it in 2015, just one year before it was due to come into force.

Of course Brexit looms large over everything we discuss. Even today, the Chancellor has tried to use the bribe of a deal double dividend or threat of postponing the spending review to cajole MPs into voting for the government’s deal. Publication of the tariffs this morning is clearly part of this strategy.

This is a calamitous strategy. It is forcing people into intransigent corners. What we need now is the Chancellor today to commit to vote to take no deal off the table. Then to join me in discussing the options available, including Labour’s deal proposal and yes, if it requires it, taking any deal back to the public.

For outside of the Westminster bubble, outside of the narrow, wealthy circles in which the Chancellor moves, nine years of Conservative Government have meant nine years of hardship. And today the Chancellor has the nerve to tell those who have suffered most at the hands of his Government, that their suffering was necessary.

If austerity wasn’t ideological, why has money been found for tax cuts for big corporations while vital public services have been starved of funding? Austerity was never a necessity, it was always a political choice. So when the Chancellor stands there and says that the end of austerity is in sight, talks of a plan for a brighter future – how can anyone who has lived through the last nine years believe him?

This is a government that has demonstrated a chilling ability to completely disregard the suffering they have caused. To talk of changing direction after nine years in office is not only impossible to believe, it’s also much too late.

Too late for the thousands who have died while waiting for a decision on their Personal Independence Payments. Too late for families who have lost their home due to cuts in housing benefit. Too late for young people losing their lives to knife crime after youth clubs have shut down and police numbers fallen, whatever he has been forced into announcing today.

This is the legacy of this Chancellor and its for this that he will be remembered. He was Shadow Chief Secretary to George Osborne and designed his austerity programme. History will hold him responsible for that. There are no alibis.

He is implicated in every cut, every every closure, every preventable death of someone waiting for hospital treatment or social care. It’s time for change. People have had enough. But increasingly they know they won’t get the change they so desperate need from this tainted Chancellor or this government.

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