Yesterday’s budget had a lot of false treats… penny sweeties if you will, to keep the ghouls off Hammond’s back this Halloween. But in reality, this was a very disappointing budget: Hammond was trying to bail out his broken government, but his bucket has holes in it. Dover, Deal and wider East Kent won’t be seeing the changes that local people here deserve. Here’s why:
Take schools: Hammond offered all schools a one-off payment to help with those ‘little extras’, such as small capital building projects or upgrading the bike sheds. This offer will do absolutely nothing to enhance learning outcomes, help over-pressured teachers, cut class sizes. Teachers’ pay is down £4000 in real terms since 2010 and headteachers that I know in our area are writing home to parents to asking for donations to keep even basic provision within their schools.
On health, whilst £20bn for the NHS might seem a lot, in reality it is just enough to ‘keep standing still.’ NHS experts are saying that £12bn of loans and deficits in the NHS mean that this new funding will basically go to paying off a loan of wealthy loan-backers, rather than reducing waiting times in A&E. I know from hearing from patients that last weekend at William Harvey Hospital, there were yet again elderly patients waiting in beds in corridors at William Harvey and people leaving A&E still with painful injuries after waits of well over 4 hours.
Yesterday’s budget also offered not a penny more for regular policing. People in Dover are outraged at our unsafe streets and businesses plagued by crime and vandalism and it is a national shame that 21,000 police have been cut and violent crime is on the rise almost everywhere. Groups in the area are considering forming their own crime action groups. It is the Conservative government’s austerity agenda that has increased all the factors that lead to crime: poverty, poor housing, school exclusion and the removal of community drug and alcohol dependency projects. This, combined with cuts to policing of 30% in real terms since 2010 is a recipe for community disaster and current Tories are doing nothing at all to address this, with the current MP for Dover claiming only this February that many forces can make do on their current budgets as ‘reserves held by forces… [are in many cases] quite substantial.’
The additional money Hammond allocated for Universal Credit is also an illusion of a giveaway; it won’t stop the planned cuts, let alone reverse them. It also doesn’t address the fact that the whole design of Universal Credit is deeply flawed, as many people in our area have already found out. This is especially true when it comes to the roll-out for those with terminal and other serious illnesses. Labour will go far further than Hammond and this government, stopping the roll-out completely and delivering a comprehensive system where no-one is worse off and work really does pay.
In short, austerity is not over and this budget did not deliver for the people of this area. Business rates need radical, wholesale reform, rather than yesterday’s ‘smoke and mirrors’ offer of one-third discount off for retailers; this after all was only necessary because of the Chancellor’s own bodged 2017 revaluation of business rates. Nothing announced yesterday would have saved those High Street giants such as M&S disappearing from Dover’s High Street. We really need these ‘anchor stores’ in our High Streets, bringing people in to shop and in turn benefiting local traders. We really need radical change, not piecemeal crumbs from Hammond’s table. We desperately need Labour’s ideas such as annual revaluations of business rates, a fair appeals system, a register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority and free public WIFI in town centres.
In short, this budget disappointed at every turn. Austerity is nowhere near over, people are still struggling and Hammond would rather give the biggest tax breaks to those earning the most, rather than think creatively about how to give maximum benefits to the wider population who are being let down by this Broken Promise Budget.