Sitting in the House of Commons for the Chancellor’s autumn budget last week, it was difficult to ignore the group of baying Tory MPs positioned around the chamber heckling Jeremy Corbyn as he responded to Philip Hammond’s budget speech. These are people who have no idea what life is like in the real world and their childish behaviour is representative of a government out of touch and out of ideas.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, workers in the UK now face two “lost decades” with no real terms earnings growth and the UK’s national debt may not return to pre-financial crisis levels until “well past the 2060s”. It is a grim forecast and should put to bed once and for all the Tory notion that it is Labour who cannot be trusted with managing the economy. For seven years they have failed working people in a relentless, ideological pursuit of economic austerity and the evidence of that failure is now clear for all to see.
There was little to celebrate in the budget, but the Chancellor’s move to exempt Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from VAT is welcome, even if it should have come much sooner. Of course, the Scottish Government was always aware that the new national forces would be liable for VAT. Had they listened to Unison at the time, the SNP could have established a single police force as a local government joint board, avoiding the VAT problem and strengthening local democratic accountability in the process.
Much to David Mundell’s frustration, the Chancellor was keen to point out that his change of heart was brought about by pressure from the new Scottish Conservative MPs, perhaps they might seek to use their new-found influence to convince Mr Hammond to refund the £140 million that has already been paid by Scottish emergency services. That would go a long way towards reversing the damaging cuts imposed by the Scottish Government that have sparked successful community campaigns across Rutherglen and Hamilton West in opposition to proposed police station closures.
The Chancellor also announced changes to wait times for Universal Credit claimants. With the full service rolled out in South Lanarkshire, my office regularly hears from constituents who face rent arrears and struggle to make ends meet due to the initial 6-week delay in payment. The move to reduce this to 5 weeks will be cold comfort to those left without enough to get by on. I have heard heartbreaking stories from constituents in the most desperate of circumstances impacting on their physical and mental health. Done correctly, Universal Credit could be a positive change to the welfare system but the government must listen to Labour and pause the roll out to fix the issues.
The Conservatives have no plan to deal with the issues facing Scotland and the wider UK. It is only a Labour Government that will take a different approach and work to build an economy that works for the many, not the few.