A Tory Budget with nothing to offer Croydon
Steve’s speech in the debate following the Spring Budget.
We are here to consider the Budget that the Government have put forward for the country. I want to speak about its impact on my constituents.
Social care crisis
Like the rest of the country, Croydon is experiencing a social care crisis. Older and disabled people regularly visit my office to say they cannot get home care and that they do not get adequate support when they leave hospital. Local charities are telling me that the funding that they need has dried up as well.
After the Chancellor ignored the social care crisis in his autumn statement, we were hoping for better this time. Although £2 billion extra over three years is a welcome start, it goes absolutely nowhere near resolving this crisis. These services have already been cut by £5 billion since 2010. Some 26% fewer people receive help today, even though there are more older people needing such help. The King’s Fund projects a £2.8 billion funding gap every year by the end of this decade, but only £2 billion is being made available over three years, so all I can say to my older constituents and the disabled people who come to ask me what the Government are doing to help them is that the Chancellor has responded to their plight by imposing yet more cuts.
It is galling to see the Department for Communities and Local Government offering Surrey County Council a sweetheart deal that is denied to Croydon and people living in every other part of the country. It is not only Surrey that has this problem to deal with, but every local authority. Every community is struggling with it. I regret immensely that the Secretary of State failed to answer my question about whether he knew in advance about the letter that was sent from his Department to Surrey County Council offering it a sweetheart deal. We need to know whether he knew about that in advance of its being withdrawn. If he was party to it, the House needs to know that that is how he is attempting to operate within his Department and, if he did not know about it, the House needs to know that he has no grip on what his officials are up to. His constant evasion of the question will not suffice. We need answers from the Secretary of State; I am sure that in time we will get them.
National insurance contributions
Particularly painful to my constituents will be the planned hike in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Croydon North is one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in the country. Unfortunately, unemployment is particularly high among many minority communities. Their desire to work and their strong enterprising spirit means that many people from these communities set up their own businesses. Self-employed people work as taxi drivers, van drivers, hairdressers, plumbers, decorators, childminders—all sorts of jobs. They work very long hours, often for very modest pay. In Croydon, well over one in 10 workers are self-employed. It makes no sense whatsoever to clobber them with new tax rises. They need help and support, not further barriers to work.
So what does the hon. Gentleman say to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies and the much respected Resolution Foundation, which are today stating specifically that the measures that he identifies are progressive and ameliorate inequality in the tax system between people on pay-as-you-earn and those who are self-employed?
Perhaps Conservative Members, including the hon. Gentleman himself, should have thought about that before they stood for election on a manifesto that said absolutely categorically that there would be “no increases in…National Insurance contributions”.
It does nothing for trust in politics when politicians say one thing to persuade people to vote for them but then, once they are elected, do the polar opposite. They are helping to further break trust in this House and trust in politics. This is not down to the IFS; it is down to Tory Central Office, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and—dare I say it?—the hon. Gentleman himself, if he is going to vote for the proposal. Given all the uncertainty about Brexit—it is shocking that the Chancellor had so little to say about Brexit in his statement—small businesses and the self-employed need reassurances, not broken promises.
Low pay and stagnant wages have become endemic
I now turn to those in employment, because this Budget has very little to offer them either. Low pay and stagnant wages have become endemic. Most people have seen no growth in household incomes in the 10 years since the global financial crash; indeed, many have seen a real-terms cut. The British economy might be getting richer, but British working people are getting poorer. Ours is the only advanced economy in which wages fell while the economy grew between 2007 and 2015. In Croydon, average earnings have fallen by 7.6% in real terms, and today more than one third of my constituents earn less than a real living wage. So where has the money gone? Who has taken the proceeds of that growth? It is not the vast majority of people in Croydon or across Britain who work round the clock to pay the bills and put food on the table, but the shrinkingly small number of the super-rich whose interests this Government really represent. Wages are stuck and household debt is soaring, but the Chancellor had absolutely nothing to say about any of it.
Is my hon. Friend aware of today’s Resolution Foundation report that says that the UK is set for the worst decade for pay growth in 200 years?
That is absolutely shocking, but it reflects what we are seeing in our constituencies and what our constituents are telling us.
Once upon a time in this country, there was a covenant between people and Government. People gave their consent to the system in return for a fair reward for the work they put in. There was an understanding that if people worked hard, they would do well. They could expect a decent home, security for their family, and healthcare when they fell ill or grew old, and that if they could not work, they would be looked after with dignity and respect. But today that covenant is broken. The unfairness and inequality that this Government stoke has bred resentment that has catapulted us out of the European Union and over a cliff edge into uncertainty.
I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to propagate this myth. The gap between the poorest and richest 10% of our population was the highest that it has ever been under a Labour Government. This Government, I am proud to say, have delivered something that was never delivered in 13 years of a Labour Government: a national living wage to assist the poorest members of our community who are in work.
This Government have absolutely divided the country. They have divided different parts of the country and communities from each other. I will give a statistic that shows how they have done it. Since they came to power in 2010, the 10 poorest councils in the country have experienced cuts 17 times bigger than those faced by the 10 richest. If that is not divisive, I do not know what is. This is happening on top of the fact that jobs have been lost to automation, factories have moved abroad, British people are denied the investment, skills and training that they need to compete in a global economy, and wages are stagnating. The Tories have made all this worse by targeting the poorest communities for the biggest scale of cuts. They have put the greatest burden on the weakest shoulders, and they have done so as a deliberate political tactic.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con)
The picture of doom and gloom that the hon. Gentleman paints is completely disconnected from the reality for people overall. Will he at least acknowledge that those in the lowest quartile have had a bigger tax cut than those in the highest quartile?
We do not need to hear anything about tax cuts from Conservative Members, given that they have just broken their solemn electoral promise not to raise taxes if elected back into government. Only yesterday we saw the Chancellor standing at the Dispatch Box proposing to raise taxes. Conservative Members will have to vote on that, and it will be very interesting to see how many follow it through and how many do not.
The truth is that the Government have divided our country. With this Budget, they are doing absolutely nothing to bring it back together again.
Steven Reed is Labour MP for Croydon North and Shadow Minister for Children and Families. In 2018 his private member’s bill on reducing violent mental health restraint became law. In June 2019 he launched Labour’s civil society strategy outlining radical plans to empower citizens and communities.
Steve chairs the Cooperative Councils Innovation Network, co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for London, was Leader of Lambeth Council 2006-12 where he led the council’s children’s services to become best-rated in the country and pioneered the public-health approach to tackling violent youth crime. He worked in publishing for 16 years and was an elected trade union branch secretary.