During his first autumn statement Chancellor Phillip Hammond told MPs he would not be reading out a list of pet plans – except for one.
“I have deliberately avoided turning this statement into a long list of individual projects to be supported, but I am going to make one exception. I will act today with just seven days to spare to save one of the UK’s most important historic houses, Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham,” said Hammond.
Spending £7.6m on restoring the country manor, which was an inspiration to Jane Austen, is no doubt a worthy cultural cause; but it was telling that Wentworth Woodhouse was mentioned while vital issues such as the NHS and social care crises, as well as the skyrocketing increase in child poverty were ignored.
The NHS, the beleaguered jewel in Britain’s crown, was relegated to a mere two mentions in Hammond’s oral statement and then only to regurgitate a rubbished claim that it will be receiving an injection of £10bn by the end of parliament.
In fact the NHS was not mentioned at all in the government’s 72-page written statement – despite recording its largest ever deficit of £2.4bn in 2015.
Labour MP Luciana Berger said, “There is actually not one single mention in the 72-page Autumn Statement document of the words NHS, social care, mental health, and public health.
“The Chancellor cannot ignore the fact that our health and social care services are in crisis, facing massive, massive deficits, and surely the many economists in his department will have told him that it’s economically illiterate to ignore the massive decrease in people receiving social care in the community and the cuts to public health and NHS staff training,” she added. “Why was the NHS missing from his autumn statement?”
The government also received stinging rebukes from within its own party.
Tory chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, said, “Councils, the NHS, charities and care providers have been clear about the desperate need for the Chancellor to take action to tackle the funding crisis in social care. It is unacceptable that this has not been addressed in the Autumn Statement.”
The Chancellor’s oral statement used the word “poverty” just once – to claim that it is at its lowest level ever for pensioners – and was not mentioned at all in the 72-page written statement. In the year to June 2016, the number of children in poverty increased by 200,000, with 29 per cent of all the UK’s children now classed as living in poverty.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the autumn statement, which also included swingeing cuts to Universal Credit, was a continuation of the Tories relentless attacks on those who could least afford to shoulder them.
“Six years of pain for the poorest, six years of sustained assault on our public services – and with more to come – have taken our economy and country backwards,” McCluskey said.
“Continuing to target cuts at the lowest incomes and our vital public services such as the NHS are cruel, senseless and drain growth from communities. From a government promising billions for a corporation tax give away to big business, this is also downright immoral.”