Sadly I wasn’t able to speak during the Finance Bill debate yesterday evening. Here is what I was going to say:
Last year, it was right to spend unprecedented amounts of money on supporting businesses and workers through the pandemic. But when you face an unprecedented crisis, taking unprecedented action is nothing to boast about. And yet that’s exactly what this Chancellor has done – much to the anger of the 3 million people excluded from Government support.
Having failed his own test of leaving no one behind, he’s now failing the second important test of this crisis: how do we transform and reshape our economy to make it more resilient not only to future public health crises, but the approaching crisis of unemployment and the climate emergency? The Finance Bill suggests the Government’s answer is to repeat the mistakes of the previous ten years.
According to the OBR, investment is due to fall in the year 2023-24. By the end of this year, unemployment is set to reach 6.5% – that’s 2.2. million people. The OECD says it will reach 7%.
Rising unemployment means increasing downward pressure on wages – and that’s after pay has already stagnated for over a decade. The Chancellor’s freeze on public sector pay alongside a pitiful 1% pay-rise for NHS workers will continue that trend.
We should be completely clear: falling investment, rising unemployment, and stagnating wages are not inevitable; they are all the consequence of this Government’s policy and the measures set out in this Bill.
Those measures will guarantee a weak recovery – squeezing pay and pushing more low paid workers into income tax, while giving a ‘super-deduction’ to big businesses and delaying corporation tax rises.
Whatever the Chancellor says about unprecedented spending during the covid crisis, what he and the Prime Minster are proposing now is Austerity Mark II.
What we needed in the budget, and what we need in this legislation, isn’t more austerity: it’s a significant plan for investing in our economy – for creating jobs, renewing our infrastructure and greening our economy.
What we got were cuts to capital expenditure, continued cuts on day-to-day expenditure, and a measly £15bn for green-related investment; there was no plan for investment and nothing approaching a green industrial strategy.
We could’ve seen plans for a huge boost in investment in renewables. Ministers could’ve announced a massive increase in infrastructure spending on housing retrofit or public transport infrastructure. We could’ve seen measures to green our financial system or introduce penalties for providers who insure fossil fuels. There might have been plans to build and develop existing industry at home – such as steel – or green our food supply.
All of this would’ve been the strategic steer to get the economy moving, address the climate crisis and create the green jobs needed to avoid the looming unemployment crisis. Instead, the Government is promising us lower living standards and more unemployment.
Ministers can attempt to steal Labour’s spots and talk about a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, but they’re fooling no one. They won’t fool the people who took to the streets last year, campaigning for climate justice; they won’t fool the youth climate strikers, fighting for a climate-secure future; and they certainly won’t fool the people searching for a job at the end of this year – jobs that a real Green Industrial Revolution would provide.
And I think on some level they know that – that’s why they need to pass draconian legislation like the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
We don’t need renewed austerity; we need a Government that will drive a green transformation in our economy, advancing living standards as we tackle the climate emergency. Whatever the boasts of Ministers on the opposite benches, this Bill shows they’re unwilling and unable to do that.