Chancellor Philip Hammond brushed Brexit under the carpet as he laid out the last Spring Budget today, delivering paltry policies that will do nothing to alleviate austerity, low wages or job insecurity.
Hammond said the Office for Budget Responsibility’s economic growth forecast for 2017 had increased from the 1.4 per cent predicted in November to 2 per cent. However he was forced to admit that growth was projected to slow next year and would not recover until 2021.
Despite failing to announce a single Brexit-related policy, the Chancellor did use the UK’s impending exit from the EU as an excuse not to use an increase in tax returns to cut back on austerity measures that have devastated public services.
He said, “As we start our negotiations to exit the European Union, this budget takes forward our plan to prepare Britain for a brighter future. It provides a strong and stable platform for those negotiations.”
‘Dearth of basic initiatives’
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, said the dearth of “basic initiatives” that would stimulate British industry as they weather Brexit, showed that the Budget provides the opposite of a “strong and stable platform”.
“The biggest challenge facing the UK economy for generations, Brexit, and the government’s preparedness for dealing with it, only received a passing mention. It was absent of any sense that the Chancellor or the government grasped the enormity of the shock that Brexit will bring to core manufacturing industries,” McCluskey said.
“There were none of the basic initiatives needed to demonstrate that the government is serious about making its industrial strategy work. There was not one word of reassurance for the car industry or the tens of thousands of workers reliant on it for their job. The carmakers who are daily voicing their fears about a future in the UK will not have heard anything to soothe their fraying nerves.”
He added, “Workers and employers have been left none the wiser as to how this government will prepare the economy for the seismic changes that Brexit will bring.”
Hammond promised to “help ordinary working families” in the Budget with a scheduled 30p rise in the minimum wage from April as well as tax breaks for childcare.
No move to end public sector pay freeze
But despite wage growth being revised by down by the OBR – with levels barely above stagnation over the next four years – there was no move by the Chancellor to end the pay freeze for public workers, increase the minimum wage to keep up with inflation or row back on welfare cuts.
Nor did the Chancellor offer any policies to tackle the epidemic of insecure work – with one in 10 employees now in casualised roles – but instead boasted that more than “2.7m people (are) enjoying the security and dignity of work than in 2010”.
Speaking in Parliament, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Chancellor’s budget was “utterly” complacent.
He said, “This was a Budget of utter complacency about the state of our economy, utter complacency about the crisis facing our public services and complacent about the reality of daily life for millions of people in this country.
“Who is reaping the rewards of this economy? For millions, this economy is simply not working.
“This is a Budget that lacks ambition for this country and lacks fairness, it demonstrates again the appalling priorities of this government, another year, tax breaks for the few public, service cuts for the many.
“It’s built on unfairness and it’s built on failure to tackle unfairness in our society.”
The Chancellor’s promise to spend £2bn on social care in England over the next three years was also met with derision from opposition MPs, who jeered at the announcement. Only £100m will go directly to the NHS, to improve emergency triage services, while £325m has been allocated to controversial Sustainability and Transformation Plans.
Independent estimates put the amount needed to reverse the NHS and social care crisis at between £8bn and £12bn.
McCluskey said the government had failed to take into account the needs of working people.
He said, “The only thing we remain sure of is that this government remains wedded to the senseless austerity that hurts working class communities hardest. The only promise we have is that of yet more cuts to our public services, which are already at the point of crisis because of years of Tory austerity.
“We called upon the Chancellor to show that he has listened to the concerns of working people, to prove that he is determined to create an economy based on decent, secure, well paid work. He failed.”