It’s been a very busy week returning to Westminster for the Budget after 11 weeks of remotely working from home in Stalybridge. Budget debates are, in my view, one of the very best parts of our parliamentary process. They are a chance to talk about the big picture—a chance to raise the things that must be said. After the year of crisis we have had, this was a Budget that needed to deliver. The UK was crying out for a Budget to put us on the road to recovery, and right the wrongs of the last decade by rebuilding our economic foundations. What the Chancellor presented on Wednesday just papered over the cracks. It totally dodged many key issues, from the social care crisis, to anything to tackle inequality, or the fact we are a country where jobs are so insecure and wages so low that many children are live in hunger in 2021. I told Newsnight of my disappointment that this Budget offered nothing on the bigger picture. Nothing on the root causes of why Covid has hit our population and our economy harder than others. Nothing on the impact on the North, or differing impact on men and women. I told Newsnight we needed to see a big vision to build back better. We were let down.
Most of all, the Chancellor failed to tackle the threat of a youth unemployment crisis. When I was growing up in the North East in the 1980s, unemployment wasn’t just an economic consideration – it was a part of life. At school and in our family, that sense of lost opportunity was in the air. Tory recessions, combined with major shifts in the economy away from traditional industries like shipbuilding and coal-mining, required an active government response that was never forthcoming. I believe the consequences of those years of Conservative mismanagement are still felt by the country today. 30 years on, we are faced yet again with a Conservative-made jobs crisis that risks wiping out a generation’s potential. Successive Conservative governments have weakened Britain’s foundations and robbed too many people of the opportunity to achieve their ambitions. The Budget response this week simply did not match the scale of the challenge. As I wrote in The Guardian and on LabourList, and told BBC News, we needed to see a cast iron guarantee that another generation of young people won’t end up on the scrap heap.
Regular readers will know I’ve spent much of the last few months arguing against the Government’s previous intention to cut Universal Credit in this Budget. To do so would have been simply unthinkable, but it’s shameful that the Chancellor had to be dragged kicking and screaming to extend the £20 a week uplift this week. It is however madness that the uplift is now due to end at the same time as the furlough scheme, after which many more people are expected to lose their jobs, only to find historically low levels of unemployment support. The uplift should stay until Universal Credit is replaced with a fair and functional system. I was proud to speak about this, and the plight of people on legacy benefits with no uplift, in the Budget debate.
It was an honour to close the Budget debate on behalf of the Labour Party yesterday. This was a Budget that did not address the challenges facing our country today and offered very little for the future. That focus on the future should have run through the whole Budget, but it simply was not there. There was nothing on schools or education at all, even though, like so many, I have sleepless nights worrying about my children and how they will ever catch up from what they have lost. There was nothing serious for town centres, which are already grappling with changes and facing huge challenges as retail moves more and more online. There was nothing on the future of work and how we harness the change in working patterns to spread prosperity across the country. There was nothing even for our incredible NHS except a £30 billion cut from April this year and no mention of how we will get through the huge backlog of surgeries and check-ups or deal with the impending mental health crisis.
It was not enough. It was not good enough, and it is not the future that British people deserve as the reward for their sacrifice and hard work. I put it to the Government that they cannot fix the problems that the country faces, because they are the ones responsible for creating so many of those problems in the first place.