THE government is engaged in a massive fraud against the British people, which was crystalised during last week’s Budget and Spending Review.
This fraud is that this government of the super-rich, led by the same millionaires and billionaires who have spent the last decade slicing through our social fabric, have overnight become concerned with “levelling up” and governing in the interest of working people.
The coronavirus forced this dogmatically Thatcherite government to reluctantly increase the role of the state — but even this was done in an uneven way that disproportionately benefited the wealthy (and Tory donors) while failing to protect many communities.
Now, they are continuing the empty rhetoric of investment while balancing the books on the backs of the poor and continuing to transfer wealth upwards.
As we rebuild from the pandemic, the lessons from the 2008 financial crash are clear.
The 99 per cent must never again be forced to bail out the super-rich. The Budget should have recognised that, in our country of deep and unequal wealth, the ultra-rich and large corporations should be asked to contribute more, including through a progressive income tax, a wealth tax and a windfall tax on corporate profits.
Yet instead it barely papered over the cracks created by the government’s catastrophic handing of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has handed tax cuts to big companies like Amazon, while putting taxes up on working families and cutting universal credit. Far from “levelling up,” it has not even reversed the decade of devastating cuts under its austerity agenda.
The Resolution Foundation projected that average household bills will increase by £3,000 by 2027, while those at the top continue to pay a far smaller proportion of their wealth.
Raising taxes on working people, as we approach a winter of interlocking cost-of-living crises from fuel to groceries, while giving tax breaks to the ultra-rich and large corporations, encapsulates the dishonesty of the government’s claim to act in the interest of working people.
We needed a people’s Budget that seriously addresses racial, class and regional inequalities — rather than paying nauseating lip service to them. Yet this is not what the Chancellor delivered.
For instance, over the last decade of Conservative rule, in-work poverty has increased to the point that a job no longer guarantees a route out of poverty.
The Budget should have introduced a minimum wage increase to at least £15 per hour to end in-work poverty. Yet the paltry minimum wage increase is still below what the Living Wage Foundation calculates as being essential to afford the necessities of life.
We need a genuinely liveable minimum wage, not poverty pay wrapped up in misleading rhetoric.
Largely due to austerity, rough sleeping in England increased by 141 per cent between 2010 and 2019, while deaths more than doubled in a recent five-year period.
The current £750m which is earmarked each year to end rough sleeping for the next year is an inadequate investment.
The government should have set in place a credible and properly funded plan to permanently eradicate rough sleeping, yet they failed to do so.
It is also vital that this is accompanied with a radical increase in local authority funding to reverse a decade of unprecedented cuts that have decimated communities across the country.
The scandal of wage exploitation in Leicester’s garment industry has been virtually ignored by the government.
I called on the Chancellor to ensure that the Budget reversed this trend and invest in Leicester and regulatory institutions to end this endemic exploitation.
Yet workplace exploitation was once again ignored by the Chancellor. It is vital that the government reverses this unacceptable approach, including by establishing a garment industry trade adjudicator.
Much has been made in the press about the Chancellor’s last-minute decision to partly reduce the cut to the £20 uplift to universal credit, which robbed 15,350 working-age families in Leicester East of £1,040 a year at a time of an unprecedented cost of living crisis.
Yet it is vital that the full uplift is immediately reinstated and extended to legacy benefits to prevent further impoverishment.
More importantly, the notion of cutting universal credit must be abandoned — instead it must be substantially increased until it is replaced with a more universal and generous system, funded by taxes on the ultra-rich.
Finally, with the climate crisis already here, and with Cop26 taking place, the government should have used the Budget to halt a number of destructive, environmentally damaging initiatives that make a mockery of its claim to be a leader on climate justice.
These include the new Cambo oil field, oil drilling in Horse Hill, Surrey, the Whitehaven coalmine, and international projects such as the offshore liquid natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique.
Yet instead, the Chancellor halved the taxes for domestic flights which are already far cheaper and more polluting than train journeys — at a cost of £30m for the taxpayer.
Doing this just days before Cop26 is an abdication of global leadership on the biggest threat facing our planet.
Far from cutting taxes on flights, the government should have introduced a frequent flier levy to reduce the carbon footprint of the richest.
After all, it was discovered by the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change that the world’s wealthiest citizens — the “polluter elite” — produce twice as much carbon emissions as the poorest 50 per cent.
The government must make a complete U-turn in its approach to climate justice.
A 2030 net-zero target is essential to meet the scale and severity of this crisis. Britain must also end all subsidies for fossil fuel companies, which are estimated to cost $5 trillion per year worldwide.
We must forge a new social settlement — a properly funded Green New Deal to rebuild the country with new green jobs and a more just and sustainable economy.
We must consider every urgent and radical action, including the nationalisation of fossil fuel companies, to save our future. Ultimately, it must be the big polluters and corporate giants who bear the costs — not ordinary people.
We should never forget the significance of the working class. Workers have the power to shut down production of polluting and harmful companies demanding that they switch to non-carbon technologies; develop green new skills and jobs; improve working conditions and pay decent wages.
From the wreckage of the pandemic, we can build a world that is radically more equal, environmentally sustainable, and in which every person can live in dignity.
The Budget was an opportunity to begin working towards that world, yet the government’s deceitful rhetoric failed to mask the fact that it utterly failed to do so. It is up to those of us on the left to continue fighting for that fairer future.