Austerity Road

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Austerity road

Hammond’s case is empty

The budget pays lip-service to Labour policies but with no intention of actually ending austerity, says ROBERT GRIFFITHS

It’s a “jam tomorrow” Budget from Chancellor Philip Hammond and is unlikely to fool millions of people who are struggling to get by. They see and experience local services continuing to deteriorate, whether it’s longer waiting times in the NHS, cancelled operations, the closure of facilities for the elderly and young people, school requests for parental donations, the extinguishing of street lights at night or the disappearance of community police officers.

It appears as though the main purpose of the budget was to press-gang MPs and the public into supporting the Tory government’s hoped-for bogus Brexit deal. Hence Hammond’s warning over the weekend that a “no deal” Brexit would mean an emergency replacement Budget that would maintain if not intensify austerity.

It’s an old and impotent trick — his predecessor George Osborne threatened just such an emergency Budget should the people vote Leave in May 2016, although nothing transpired except Osborne’s emergency exit from 11 Downing Street.

Today’s Chancellor is every bit as pro-EU as yesterday’s. Together with today’s pro-EU Prime Minister, Hammond is under orders from big business to keep Britain tied to EU single market rules, while pretending to implement the letter and the spirit of the 2016 referendum result.

Their Chequers-based bogus Brexit proposal would maintain the single market regime over much of British industry, severely limiting the policies of a left-led Labour government in matters of state aid, public ownership, regional development, the direction of investment and the like.

Bribed by British maintenance payments of £37 billion of public money, the EU Commission will probably reach a settlement with the Tory government extending EU membership in all but name, keeping economic control of Northern Ireland and throwing French bankers a morsel of trade from the City of London.

If enough anti-democratic, pro-EU Labour MPs vote to support such a deal — reports in the Financial Times put the number at around 30 so far — then Theresa May and her government may survive a while longer. The irony, of course, is that these Labour rebels would be voting against Keir Starmer’s “six-point test” that, with their enthusiastic support, was designed to block a real Brexit, rather than frustrate the bogus Brexit on offer from a largely pro-EU Tory Cabinet.

Should there be no deal with the EU, on the other hand, or if one is rejected by the Commons, then May will have to resign and a general election will almost certainly follow soon afterwards.

That’s when Hammond or his successor will be desperate enough to promise “jam today” as well as “jam tomorrow.”

For sure, there was precious little of either in his modest little basket yesterday.

Although Tory Chancellors and Prime Ministers are ready to steal Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s clothes — whether on ending austerity, forsaking new PFI schemes or introducing a “living wage” — they have ignored the shadow chancellor’s appeal to reform and halt the roll-out of universal credit. Hammond’s puny tinkering with future work allowance reforms and a £1bn rescue fund over five years will not end the cuts that are plunging a million more children into poverty.

The extra £20.5bn promised for the NHS over the next five years will merely restore annual real increases of around 4 per cent. This is where they used to be until 2010, after which they were slashed to around 0.9 per cent.

The damage done by nine years of austerity will not be repaired. Even the 4 per cent increases do not keep pace with rising demand, nor even with the annual 5 per cent increase in NHS spending on medicines.

The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that by 2030 the NHS will need ten times more per year than Hammond’s measly extra rations. Social care will need an additional £10bn a year just to maintain current levels of service. So “spreadsheet Phil” is handing local councils less than one-tenth (£779m) of that annual sum as a sign of his sincere concern for those in greatest need. But the recipients can sleep more soundly in their beds knowing that a bigger sum (£1bn) will be spent on nuclear submarine patrols.

The extra inflationary subsidies to house buyers will do nothing to solve a many-sided crisis. With more than a million families homeless, the number of government-funded “affordable” and social sector homes being built has fallen since 2010 to 28,000 (from 56,000) and 1,200 (from 36,000), respectively. Rent subsidies paid to private landlords are twice the amount of government spending on new social housebuilding.

For millions of “Generation Rent” young people, the prospect of home ownership does not exist. The government has pledged to ensure that 300,000 new houses are built every year, but the numbers have yet to rise to even half of that.

History since 1946 indicates that such a target will never be achieved without a major local authority council housing programme — and Hammond’s £500m addition to the Housing Infrastructure Fund will make very little difference to most councils.

The Chancellor’s parsimony when it comes to meeting a basic human need contrasts with his relative generosity when it comes to road transport. Although absent from yesterday’s speech, he reportedly intends to spend an extra £28bn on improvements to England’s motorways (84 per cent of Britain’s total mileage) — but only £420m to local councils to fill in the potholes now pitting many local roads.

These priorities might suit the road freight lobby, but not most motorists and cyclists. They certainly don’t suit our society’s eco-system, which urgently requires measures to transfer freight to the railways (especially when almost two-thirds of lorries are partly loaded or empty).

Far from heralding an end to austerity, this Autumn Budget retains many of the cuts planned for the next three or four years, especially in local government services. Yet Britain remains one of the wealthiest societies in the world, with one of the lowest rates of tax on corporate profits and a super-rich minority who stash their tax-free dosh in tax havens mostly under British jurisdiction.

Chancellor Hammond’s speech made an eloquent case for the urgent election of a left-led Labour government, free from EU rules to pursue policies for the many not the few.

Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party.

Shadow Chancellor John McDDonnell’s budget response in full.

“4 weeks ago the Prime Minister promised an ‘end to Austerity’…yesterday’s budget was not the ‘end of Austerity’.

Many have taken their own lives as a result of the cuts to benefit made by the Tory government since 2010.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell eviscerates yesterday’s Tory budget.

 

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