This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, announced his Budget. Labour, and every major financial institution, said now is not the time for tax rises. Sadly he didn’t take Labour’s advice and ploughed ahead with plans to force local authorities to hike council tax, hitting the pockets of ordinary families instead.
While he did delay his much vaunted corporation tax hike until 2024, is a Conservative Chancellor really going to raise corporation tax just before the next election? We’ll see.
On some things, the Chancellor did get it right. I called for an expansion of the SEISS scheme, an extension of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, the business rates buffs and VAT reduction for hospitality, and extension of the furlough scheme.But this was the minimum we needed to see to get businesses and families through to the other side of the pandemic.
Birmingham is facing the biggest levelling up challenge of any city in the UK. It was hit hard by Conservative austerity, and then hit doubly hard again by the pandemic when it had already been weakened.
As my friend, colleague and Labour candidate for West Midlands Metro Mayor, Liam Byrne, said, the Budget on Wednesday was almost more noteworthy for what was missing rather than what was in it.
For leaseholders in Edgbaston, the Prime Minister promised only last week that we’d hear more from the Chancellor on the cladding scandal. Once again, on this, Rishi Sunak had nothing to say.
Not only did the Chancellor not mention health in his Budget, he buried in the small print a £30bn cut to NHS spending for 2021-22.
And, how did Rishi Sunak thank our public sector workers for a year of tireless service? The Police will see a real-terms pay cut, teachers will get nothing and our NHS staff who have worked so hard to protect us throughout the pandemic will be offered a misley 1% pay rise. This amounts to just £3.50 extra a week for an experienced nurse but, if the Bank of England’s expectations for inflation rates prove correct, will amount to a pay cut.
This is disgraceful. We must now see the start of a vision that meets the task of our times, unlocks opportunity for all, and finally gives Birmingham and the West Midlands a fair share.
The Centre for Cities recently issued a report which placed Birmingham as facing the biggest levelling up challenge in the UK. We needed this budget to do much more to help Birmingham recover from the pandemic. Here’s my blog on the challenges we are facing and the changes we need.
Cutting aid to the largest humanitarian crisis in the world
This week in the House of Commons, I challenged the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Dominic Raab MP, to allow a vote on the savage cuts being made to UK aid.
In the middle of a pandemic when millions stand on the brink of famine, the Government slashed life-saving support to the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Our Government has halved direct aid to Yemen. This is a devastating reminder of the real world impact the Government’s choice to abandon its manifesto commitment on aid will have on the most vulnerable people and shows that this Government cannot be trusted to keep its word.
After six years of brutal conflict two thirds of the Yemeni population are reliant on food aid to survive and thousands of people in the country are at risk of famine. Cutting aid is a death sentence that this Government has chosen to make.
Not only is this morally reprehensible, but this means that the UK is the only G7 nation to cut aid. The U.S. has added billions to their development budget and France has committed to increasing their support for the world’s poorest by reaching 0.7% by 2025. The Government can’t keep pretending that it can make cuts without risking millions of lives.
Following the Chancellor’s revelation that there will be a £30bn cut to NHS spending for 2021-22, I wrote to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, to ask that he provide urgent clarity on how he intends to address this growing crisis with our health and social care funding.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, and in particular the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, has faced overwhelming pressures during the coronavirus pandemic. It has seen some of the highest hospital admission rates from Covid of any hospital not just in the UK, but Europe. This has led to surgeries being cancelled in November, and then again in January, when the disastrous second wave peaked.
Some of the casework I have been contacted with in recent months has been genuinely upsetting and shows the direct failure of our Government to control the pandemic. I have been contacted by people with Stage 3 cancers who have been told their operations have had to be cancelled and delayed. I can’t imagine the anguish those people have felt, waiting to hear if they will get the treatment they need in time.
I was left confounded yesterday to hear no mention of health and social care during the Chancellor’s speech on the Budget, and then alarmed to find that, buried in the small print, the Government has committed to a £30.1 billion cut to day to day NHS spending from 2021-22.
Waiting times are at an all-time high. Even before the pandemic, the foundations of the NHS had been weakened, with approximately 100,000 unfilled vacancies in December 2019. As a result, the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment has increased 500% over the last decade and an estimated 4.59 million people are currently on the waiting list for treatment – the highest ever number on record. The Government has not met its own statutory target on this since 2016.
Now is not the time to cut funding to the organisations and people who have worked tirelessly to protect and care for us during a global pandemic. The toll the pandemic has and is taking on NHS workers is incredible. Research published in January found 45% of intensive care staff were exhibiting symptoms indicative of depression, anxiety disorders and PTSD. The 1% NHS pay rise being proposed is a disgrace.
Over the last few months, many of you have written to me expressing your concerns about the Government looking to lift the ban on bee-killing pesticides. Across the UK, 22,000 people co-signed my co-op party colleague, Luke Pollard’s letter calling on the Government to reverse this decision.
Thanks to your efforts we were successful and bee-killing pesticides will not be used this year. The Government cited weather conditions and left the door open to using neonicotinoids in the future. If they do, we'll be ready.