“An admission that austerity has been a failed experiment” – Corbyn’s Budget speech

Jeremy Corbyn

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons today in response to the Budget.

The coronavirus outbreak is a national emergency. So, I pledge to the public we will work together all of us to meet this head on and we will overcome it. We will overcome the virus thanks to the dedication of our NHS staff, carers and public servants. The steps the government has announced today to head off the economic impact of coronavirus are welcome.

But we have to be straight with people that it’s going to be so much tougher because of the last ten years of deeply damaging and counter-productive cuts to our essential public services. We are going into this crisis with our public services on their knees and, as today’s figures confirm, with a fundamentally weak economy which is now flatlining with zero growth even before the impact of coronavirus.

Today’s Budget was billed as a turning point. A chance to deliver in particular, on the promises made to working class communities during the general election. But it doesn’t come close. The government’s boast of the biggest investment since the 1950s is a sleight of hand. It’s in fact only the biggest since they began their slash and burn assault on our services, economic infrastructure and living standards in 2010.

And having ruthlessly forced down the living standards and life chances of millions of our people for a decade the talk of “levelling up” is a cruel joke. The reality is that this budget is an admission of failure, an admission that austerity has been a failed experiment that didn’t solve our economic problems but made them worse that held back our recovery and failed even on its own terms.

And today’s measures go nowhere near reversing the damage that has been done to our country. Madam deputy speaker, I’m sure the whole House will wish the Hon Member for Mid-Bedfordshire well. Many people are understandably very worried about the impact of coronavirus on their lives. The government needs to be very clear about what it is announcing, and there are still questions to be answered about the government’s response.

What coverage is there for people on zero-hours contracts or those without a contract of employment beyond reforms to benefits? Will the statutory sick pay adjustments announced today be available to all workers from day one? What support will be made available for low-paid workers who don’t meet the lower earnings limit for statutory sick pay Are there any plans to increase the level of statutory sick pay which is scandalously low? Will people who are doing the right thing by self-isolating be punished with a five week wait for a universal credit payment?

The benefits system can’t be the only support for millions of workers not entitled to statutory sick pay. This crisis is exposing the vulnerabilities in our economy and public services. When 17,000 NHS beds have been cut, leaving 94% of the remaining beds full, when 100,000 people were forced to wait more than four hours on trollies in A&E in January. It’s little wonder people worry that the extra money for the health service is too little, too late.

We only have a quarter of the intensive care beds per person that Germany has. We don’t have enough ventilators to deal with a mass outbreak or people with the skills to operate them. Across the NHS there are 100,000 staff vacancies. Public health budgets have been slashed by £1bn in recent years.

And what an irony: public health is based on the principle that prevention is better than cure, but this government is providing money only after a serious outbreak is underway. We know those most vulnerable to coronavirus are older people. This is when we need a strong social care system. But social care is in crisis. There is a £8bn funding gap since 2010.

Instead of the government presenting a social care plan which the part-time Prime Minister told us was ready long ago, they are asking the rest of us for ideas. Underpaid care workers a quarter of them on zero-hours contracts, travel from house to house to provide care to elderly and sick people. It is a model that could scarcely be better designed to encourage the spread of the virus.

So, it is vital that the government ensures care workers do not lose out for staying away from work if they experience symptoms. Madam deputy speaker, the Chancellor shows some brass neck when he boasts that measures to deal with coronavirus are only possible because of his party’s management of the economy. Look outside.

In the real world, we’re still living through the slowest economic recovery in a century. Our economy is fundamentally weak. Office for National Statistics figures out today show the economy is not growing. Growth was 0.0% in the three months to January. Future growth has been downgraded yet again from 1.4% to 1.1% this year, and that is before coronavirus has been taken into account. We have stalling productivity flat-lining business investment and wages have only just scraped past pre-crisis levels.

None of this can be blamed on coronavirus and it isn’t all because of Brexit either. It’s because they have failed on the economy. That failure has left us the most regionally unequal country in Europe. Investment spending per head in London is currently more than double that in the East Midlands. Now they talk about levelling up. But who pushed huge swathes of our country so low in the first place?

It’s Conservative governments that have starved the country of investment over the last 10 years, resulting in a £192bn hole in infrastructure spending. What has that meant for people? It has meant cut bus services patchy broadband homes and businesses ruined because of inadequate flood defences. The Chancellor expects plaudits for half-filling the investment hole his party has dug.

Amid a blizzard of hype, he is claiming today marks “the biggest capital injection since the 1950s.” But this is all smoke and mirrors. As a percentage of GDP, it only returns us to the levels we had before the Conservatives slashed investment so drastically in 2010.

Given the challenge of the coronavirus crisis, we need more far-reaching action to strengthen and stabilise our economy, and ensure we are in the strongest position possible to navigate the transition to a new relationship with the EU and a post-Brexit economy.

If the government truly wanted to level up after Brexit, there is one thing they would be doing above all else: A green industrial revolution. They would have a plan to kickstart new, green industries and create skilled jobs all across our country. The climate emergency threatens our very existence. It demands we mobilise our resources on a massive scale.

The environmental measures announced by the Chancellor today get nowhere near that. The government has maintained the freeze on fuel duty without lowering bus and rail fares showing complacency about the climate emergency. Young people especially will be dismayed at the lack of urgency to reduce our emissions. They will rightly see this as the Conservatives once again putting the profits of the big polluters and the oil companies above people’s safety and wellbeing.

Madam deputy speaker, today’s Budget confirms that austerity hasn’t worked even on its own terms. We’ve had a decade of decline. Austerity has cost the UK economy almost £100bn according to the New Economics Foundation. But the true cost is incalculable. I want to give the House an example to bring that home.

Errol Graham was an amateur footballer when he was young. By his mid 50s suffering from mental health issues, he had become reclusive, unable to leave his flat in Nottingham terrified of the world outside. He couldn’t attend his fitness for work assessment so, because of this government’s harsh and uncaring attitude his benefits were cut off.

With no income for food he began to go hungry. He wrote a desperate letter to his DWP assessor. “Judge me fairly,” he wrote. “It’s not nice living this way.” Errol weighed four-and-a-half stone when the bailiffs found his body inside his flat. He had starved to death.

When the Chancellor talks about the “difficult decisions” the government took in imposing austerity, is he thinking of the decision to deprive Errol of his income? And the worst thing is austerity all of this suffering has been a political choice – not an economic necessity. The party opposite continues to make the absurd claim that austerity was needed because spending on schools, hospitals and public services by Labour somehow caused a worldwide financial crash.

A US Senate report into the root causes of the crash singled out two investment banks for blame: Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister turfed out one Chancellor who had previously worked at Deutsche Bank and replaced him with another who worked at Goldman Sachs. Truly a government of the people.

Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, they want us to believe that austerity is over. But it’s not true. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies it would take at least £54bn of current spending this year, excluding health and social care, to get back to 2010 levels. We’ve heard nothing even approaching that scale of action from the Chancellor today. Without it, austerity is “baked in” to the economy, the IFS says.

And try telling local councils which face a further £8bn black hole over this parliament that austerity is over. Madam deputy speaker, to truly end austerity and fund urgent action on the climate emergency and our public services we need a fair taxation system. That means making the richest pay their share. But the government’s change to the national insurance threshold mostly benefits higher earners, while those on lower incomes would be far better supported by boosting wages and social security.

The incomes of the poorest fifth of families have fallen by 7% in just two years. As the Resolution Foundation has said, “this has been driven by policy choices.” How can it be right that 12 years after the bankers crashed the economy, the poorest 20% of the population are still being made to pay for it, while those at the top are being rewarded again?

And today we learn that they won’t even scrap entrepreneurs’ relief, a huge subsidy mainly benefiting 5,000 people who make an average of £350,000. I can only assume those who fund the Conservative Party have had a quiet word with the Chancellor to make him back off.

Creating a fair taxation system also means tackling tax avoidance and evasion. How can we have confidence in this Chancellor to clamp down on tax dodgers, when he previously worked for hedge funds that used the Cayman Islands, and had a very close business associate who engaged in multi-million pound tax avoidance?

And how can we have confidence when the government’s big idea is so-called free ports – tax-free zones that allow the super-rich to dodge taxes and give workers fewer protections? Madam deputy speaker, the last Chancellor resigned saying that no self-respecting minister could accept being controlled by advisors in Number 10. The new Chancellor accepted that control and now he has presented a Budget just 27 days after taking the job.

Can I congratulate Dominic Cummings on preparing it so quickly? But what a let-down it has been. When I first responded to a Budget austerity was very much in vogue and our demands for investment and spending were dismissed. The terrain of political debate has shifted dramatically in just a few years. But there is a gaping chasm between the rhetoric the Conservatives have adopted and the reality of what they will deliver.

Because the Conservative Party will never stand up for working class communities. They will always put the interests of their wealthy friends first. And as the reality of today’s announcements becomes clear and the hard-sell and spin fade away, this budget will undoubtedly come to be seen as a lost opportunity, a failure of ambition and a bitter disappointment to all those people who have been promised so much, but from what we’ve heard today are actually going to see so little.

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