Beth Winter MP: The government is trying to force the public into greater poverty

There can be no political stability when a government is attempting to force the public into greater poverty.

Rishi Sunak at the House of Commons despatch box at PMQs

Beth Winter is a Welsh Labour Party politician. She has been the Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley since the 2019 general election.

After the financial response to his predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, it was clear that Jeremy Hunt’s priority was to deliver a financial statement that would satisfy the markets. His and Sunak’s repeated references to ‘stability’ underlined that approach.

But the focus on financial market reactions meant that the claims of this being ‘a plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis’ were just a smokescreen. The reality according to the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility, is the opposite of that: it said times are tough, and under this Conservative Government, it’s going to get worse.

There can be no political stability when a government is attempting to force the public into greater poverty.

At the start he set out the OBR analysis that the UK is already in recession. However, he failed to mention what was published in the OBR document after he sat down, that there would be a fall in real household disposable incomes of 7.1 per cent by 2023-24.

This fall in living standards, according to the OBR, would be “the largest since ONS records began in 1956-57” and take incomes back a decade to 2013 levels. 14 million in the UK are already living in poverty. Instead of a budget designed to reduce this, the Chancellor has delivered a budget that will see this number increase. 

This is because the Statement announced a range of new tax rises, fails to tackle rising prices, and delivers cuts to public spending. But the impact of those appears to have fallen once again on those least able to bear it.

Twelve years later, the Conservative austerity agenda is back, now as Austerity 2.0, with the OBR stating that the squeeze on public services through real-terms cuts to departmental budgets for day-to-day spending by 2024-25 would be between £5 and £15 billion. Trumpeted one-off increases in health and education budgets would remain below the rate of inflation, and so remain real-terms cuts to vital services.

Devolved nations are forgotten. Extra funding for Wales will do nothing. Rebecca Evans MS has been clear, Wales cannot afford deep and damaging austerity and the statement doesn’t even come close to providing the funding needed to protect public service budgets against the immense challenges caused by record inflation.

The Conservatives don’t want to fund local Councils, or take the political hit for not doing so, so will encourage councils to levy higher council tax to try and fill funding gaps for services. But for areas with low incomes, this is simply not possible. The Welsh Local Government Association said, ‘this Autumn Statement is headed straight for the danger’ as the money for local authorities, ‘isn’t anywhere near enough to even begin to fill the ever-expanding budget gaps.’

You cannot cut what has already been cut, and there is nothing left to cut. Many councils are already over the cliff edge. To pass more cuts onto Councils is barbaric and will mean significant job losses.

With no dedicated announcement on public sector pay, overworked and understaffed teachers, nurses and firefighters now face further falling real terms reductions. With income tax thresholds now set to be held in place, millions will pay more income tax as even meagre nominal pay rises push them into higher tax bands.

It is understandable that the numbers balloting for industrial action are escalating and the new year could conceivably see millions of working days lost to strike action until employers and government change policy on pay.

Pensions and social security are to rise by the September rate of 10.1%, but that is just standing still. There were no measures to mitigate the suspension of the triple lock last year, the loss of the universal credit uplift or the benefit cap since 2016.

Housing is entering a heightened sense of crisis, as mortgage repossessions increase, landlords evict tenants and rents are driven up. Rent controls are needed more than ever.

And with energy bills, the so-called ‘cap’ rising to £3000 with no more universal support from April, means individuals at all levels would be paying more. Hunt seems to have junked the idea of trying to mitigate bills for the majority of people. This is going to generate huge anger.

But there is an alternative.

The Conservatives weakness, both economically and politically, has meant they made some meagre efforts to levy funds from sources of wealth. Windfall taxation on fossil fuel extraction will be extended – and expanded to energy supply. And capital gains and dividend tax thresholds were reduced.

But doing so only exposes that vast wealth is still being accumulated untaxed. We must use this precedent to push for wealth to be taxed at the same rate as income, so that those who hoard pay at the same rate as those who work.

This Statement will hit those on lower incomes more than the wealthy, and the polluting energy firms more than their renewable counterparts.

It doesn’t deal with the household cost-of-living crisis, public services funding crisis, or the climate crisis. This sets the wrong priorities all in the name of ‘stability’. we can’t accept that. Not only do we need to destabilise the Conservative agenda, we need to blow it out of the water.

We need a sustained campaign to lift incomes, led by the trade unions, involving community campaigners, that can drive forward an agenda that wins on pay.

We need to redistribute the absurd wealth of the few to secure a future for the many.

We must not accept this budget for the financial markets. There can be no stability until there is a budget which prioritises the people.

Comments are closed.