At September’s Tory Party Conference, Prime Minister Theresa May MP stated that UK Government austerity would come to an end with next year’s spending review when Chancellor Philip Hammond MP sets out new departmental spending totals.
I was sceptical about the supposed end of austerity. Mrs May offered little clarity on how lives will really be better for those impacted by the Tory Government’s relentless pursuit of austerity and how the Treasury would fund significant pay rises for public sector workers. In last week’s Autumn Budget we learned that austerity is far from over.
For those in work, National Insurance contributions for people earning between £8,632 and £50,000 were increased to 12%, a 1% increase, meaning someone earnings £27,000 a year will pay more than £180 extra and £34,000 an additional £250.
To add insult to injury, the extra money promised for the NHS just four months ago is £54.5 million short of what Scotland should rightly receive under the Barnett formula, which should automatically adjust the resources allocated to Scotland to reflect changes south of the border.
The Chancellor should have done more to stimulate the economy, deliver justice to women disadvantaged by pension changes and invest in public services. He could have done so while staying within his own fiscal mandate and his own fiscal targets. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, he had fiscal headroom of about £15,400 million. He chose to keep that in reserve rather than invest it.
Once again, the UK Government has failed to deliver the Ayrshire Growth Deal, which Ayrshire’s three local authorities SNP MPs and MSPs have been pressing him on for two years. Indeed, local MP Patricia Gibson met with UK Ministers on Guy Fawkes Night to demand action. Ayrshire needs this growth deal to deliver investment, jobs and huge transformation to Ayrshire’s economy. Such unnecessary delays, I believe, lost us the jobs and investment the new Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, now to be located in Renfrewshire, would have brought to North Ayrshire. Ayrshire remains side-lined by this Tory government.
The Chancellor was obstinate on continuing the disastrous roll-out of Universal Credit which has already caused a 19.5% spike in the number of North Ayrshire households in rent arrears and forced more families into foodbanks.
The UK Tory Government is attempting to balance its books on the backs of the poorest in our society, whilst the SNP has taken steps to mitigate the worst of Westminster austerity, but with Scotland’s 2019/20 resource grant £1,900 million (6%) smaller than it was in 2010/11, with a rapidly ageing population we are having to do far more with less.
The Resolution Foundation’s Budget independent analysis shows that three-quarters of the £12,000 million in social security cuts announced in 2015 will stay, making a mockery of Tory claims that austerity is over. The overall impact of Tory tax and benefit policies will again help the more prosperous. The poorest fifth of households will be £400 a year worse off by 2023-24, while the wealthiest fifth will gain £390 a year.
Labour failed to hold the Tories to account over the Budget, stating they would not reverse any tax cuts. It is clear that only the SNP Government can be trusted to deliver a fair income tax system and support families.
UK Government policies consistently let down households on lower and middle incomes. The Tories have broken their promise to end austerity and completely failed to use this opportunity to help both the 90% of hard-pressed earners who do not pay the higher rate of tax and the most vulnerable people in our society.