Yesterday was the Chancellor’s first – and last – spring Budget. If yesterday was anything to go by, it’s good riddance. This is a Tory government with the wrong priorities – the fewer budgets from them, the better.
What we needed from the Chancellor was an urgent change of direction. What we got was the same old austerity project. The Tories have missed just about every target they have set themselves since 2010, and presided over an economy where real pay is still lower than it was before the financial crash – a situation described as “dreadful” by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Yet still they continue along the same foolish path.
Scottish Labour demanded three things from this budget: most important, an end to austerity and a reversal of cuts to social security; help for the North Sea oil and gas industry; and VAT exemptions for Scotland’s police and fire and rescue services. I welcome the support for the North Sea but nothing much else.
Austerity is set to continue: the Tories refuse to reverse welfare reforms that have reduced benefit payments in Scotland by £1 billion since 2010, and are set to plunder a further £1bn by 2020. That means more economic pain for the vulnerable, with women and disabled people losing out more than most. Meanwhile, the government is spending £1bn on an inheritance tax cut that will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. Shameful.
Around £370 million will be cut from disability payments in Scotland in coming years, compounding those we have already seen, while 86 per cent of Tory tax and benefit changes since 2010 have fallen on women, who have also been hit hardest by Tories’ disastrous mishandling of reforms to the state pension age. Yesterday I met with the courageous Edinburgh WASPI women – they couldn’t be more furious with what this government has done to their pensions. What a way to celebrate International Women’s Day!
Finally, the Chancellor didn’t even mention the word “Brexit” in his hour-long Budget. The fiercest economic headwinds and not even a glance. I’m reminded by constituents of the consequences for jobs and livelihoods in Edinburgh every single day, yet, not a word. Instead, a large increase in National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, the drivers of the economy since 2008.
Overall, it’s clearer than ever that people in Scotland are caught between a rock and a hard place with budgets from both UK and Scottish Governments failing to deal with the issue of real wages and investment in our services. They offer nothing more than managed decline.
And in Scotland, since 2011, the SNP has imposed £1.5bn worth of cuts to local services like schools and care of the elderly with another £27.1m of cuts to Edinburgh services announced last week. This additional cut was passed with the help of the Green Party who shamefully said Edinburgh would get more as a result. That’s the equivalent of me taking £100 off you, giving you back £20, and saying you are better off as a result. They are trying to take the public for fools as our cherished services suffer. Voters, come the council election in May, will remember this betrayal.
The SNP has turned the Scottish Parliament into a conveyor belt for Tory cuts by refusing to use their vast powers to make a difference. It is simply not good enough, especially while Scotland’s economy is lagging behind the UK’s.
And while we are here, let’s take talk of another divisive and damaging independence referendum off the table. It’ll do nothing but make things worse. Scotland doesn’t need it nor want it.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South