Finance Bill Debate

Yesterday was the final day of debate on the Finance Bill, the mechanism by which the Chancellor implements the changes that he announced in the Budget in March 2013. 

As I mentioned at the time, this Budget made the  40% lowest income households worse off – and that’s according to the Treasury’s own analysis.   The Office for Budget Responsibility also had to clarify that 1.4% of growth was lost as a result of the scale of public spending cuts, when the Prime Minister tried to claim that cuts were the only way to recovery.

I was fortunate to be selected to speak and a copy of my contribution is below:

Debbie Abrahams: It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). I agree with him totally and will speak in support of new clause 10.

The points made by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week when the comprehensive spending review was published support what we are trying to do with the new clause:

“The documentation and explanation accompanying yesterday’s spending review announcements was woeful”.

It went on to say:

“Publishing such a small amount of information with little explanation is not an exercise in open government.”

That warning says it all. It reflects the Government’s total incompetence on the economy.

Last week’s spending review was further evidence that the Government’s economic policies are failing. They were warned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) that cutting too far and too fast would smother growth, and that is just what has happened. The Chancellor promised that he would deal with the deficit by 2015. That will not happen. He promised that his emergency Budget and his first comprehensive spending review in 2010 would deal with the nation’s finances and put the country on the road to recovery. Again, that has not happened.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): It is interesting to hear the hon. Lady refer to the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). She is critical of our Government’s policy, but does she support increasing the debt? She criticises not bringing down the deficit faster, but if she followed her right hon. Friend’s policy, I am afraid the deficit would be going up, as would the debt.

Debbie Abrahams: I am afraid I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I thank him for his intervention. Perhaps I could that mention his right hon. Friend the Chancellor said:

“We have already asked the British people for what’s needed.”

He promised that he would not come back asking for more, yet last week we were here again. I hate to draw parallels with Oliver Twist, but it is a little like him coming back for more. In three years, the Chancellor has managed to hollow out the economy. He has not sorted out the City, and he is passing it off as everybody else’s fault, rather than his own.

Mr Newmark: There is a thing called “chutzpah”. Is the hon. Lady saying that her party bears no responsibility whatsoever for the enormous debt legacy and deficit the country was left with? The Government are making progress. More men and women are in work than ever before and the deficit is down by a third. Yes, the debt is not going down as fast as possible—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Mr Newmark, this is not an opportunity for you to make a speech; it was an intervention on new clause 10, and we would like it to be relevant.

Debbie Abrahams: On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, there is more to come in my speech: “And there’s more”, I promise—I never did a good impersonation of Frank Carson. On employment, however, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Employment is lower than in 2008 and I will come on to that—those are official statistics, so he cannot refute them. At the end of 2010, our economy was growing, yet we have been bumbling along the bottom for three years. We had a double-dip recession and barely escaped a triple-dip recession. Growth has been downgraded at every turn.

Mel Stride: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Debbie Abrahams: No, I will not give way now, as I want to carry on with my argument. There may be an opportunity later.

Amazingly, just a few months after the Chancellor delivered his autumn statement, he had to halve his estimates for growth this year. We will be borrowing £245 billion more than planned since 2010, and as we have heard, the deficit will not be eradicated as the Government promised in 2010. In spite of being told how important austerity was for economic confidence and low interest rates, the triple A rating has been downgraded by not one but two credit rating agencies. The Government tried to blame everybody except themselves and said that austerity was the only way, only to receive an embarrassing rebuke from the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility who said that public spending cuts wiped 1.4% off growth last year. The International Monetary Fund followed suit shortly afterwards.

Should anyone wish to know how we relate to the rest of the world, we come 18th in the G20, due to our appalling economic performance. Even after the IMF revised its multiplier, the Chancellor remains steadfast. I could go on—[Interruption.] I am tempted. Our rate of inflation is way above the Bank of England’s 2% target. Employment is lower now than in 2008 and one in 10 people are underemployed. Whatever economic indicator we use, the Government are failing. By all accounts, the public are now starting to see that. Earnings are falling in real terms by 2%, and a recent poll showed that four out of five people feel that austerity is not working. As we have heard, the Chancellor is resolute and sticking fast. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have also tried to pass this off as everybody else’s fault, but we need to examine the arguments put forward to explain why we are in this mess.

The previous Labour Government have been blamed, but that ignores the fact that this was a global financial crisis. We should remember that at the time the Chancellor and the Prime Minister failed to suggest that our financial institutions required more regulation. The Chancellor has tried to suggest that it is a public spending issue, but public spending as a percentage of GDP was 36.5% in 2007, compared to 42.5% in 1997. In other words, the Labour Government did repair the roof when the sun was shining. We brought down the deficit when we were in power, and it is outrageous to suggest anything else. After injecting funds into our banks, public spending rose to 60% of GDP, but the City’s debt was 245% of GDP. For this Government to pass the crisis off as a sovereign debt problem is absolutely outrageous. This was a problem in our financial institutions that they said nothing about when they were in opposition. They are still failing to grapple with this major issue. They have not managed to improve it.

The Government are trying to distract attention away from our financial institutions and blame what they refer to as shirkers and scroungers. Their attack on the social security budget is outrageous. We must not forget that 43% of social security is paid to older people through old age pensions. This attack is on our pensioners, and that is disgraceful. Growth of just 1% a year since 2010 would have generated £335 billion more. If growth had been 2% a year, that figure would have been £551 billion. Many economists have said that the lack of growth as a result of the failure of economic policy may not be recoverable.

On the areas taking the biggest hits in the spending review—I have just alluded to the Department for Work and Pensions—we must not forget local government. What will the cuts hit? They will hit our social care budget—the budget for the most vulnerable in our society. That is outrageous. Although the NHS budget has been protected, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that job losses are likely to continue. We have already seen 300,000 people lose their jobs in the public sector. It is estimated that another 300,000 will lose their jobs in the next two years. The indirect effect of cuts to work and pensions, local government and the NHS will be to hit our pensioners and increase the number of children growing up in poverty, which will affect the rest of their lives, to more than 1.1 million. We are also seeing, for the first time in decades, life expectancy coming down in certain areas. I could go on, but I will finish there.

 

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