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Tories at their arrogant worst

The Bullingdon boys’ Budget has little to offer ordinary people. The rich, on the other hand, stand to do very nicely, says JEREMY CORBYN

YESTERDAY, the House of Commons felt a bit like a reunion of the Bullingdon Club.

Its two leading members, David Cameron and George Osborne, sat together on the front bench with the looming threat of Boris Johnson banished from their minds.

At one level it showed the Tories at their arrogant worst, cheering every tax cut for higher-income people and every tax relief for yet another group of businesses.

On another level, one can see it as the last-gasp Budget of a government that has spectacularly failed to achieve the economic targets it set itself and left millions of people significantly worse off than they were four years ago, with the prospects for the younger generation even less appealing than in 2010.

In response, shadow chancellor Ed Balls quite rightly pointed out that for the last 51 weeks, prices have risen faster than wages, and that the average worker is now £1,600 per year worse off than they were four years ago.

For full-time workers this figure rises to £2,000.

Even the Office for Budget Responsibility has drawn attention to the dwindling government tax income caused by reduced wages.

Indeed, this year the deficit is £91.3 billion, as opposed to the £86.6bn forecast last year.

Balls pointed out that bank lending to small and medium enterprises is falling and that numbers of new apprenticeships are down.

He also pointed out that reductions in tax credits hit women harder than men and that £3bn has been cut from those on average incomes, while those earning over £100,000 a year are collectively £3bn better off than they were four years ago.

While acknowledging the £2bn put into the NHS as an emergency measure on Monday, Balls quite rightly questioned on what basis the £2bn is going to continue in future years - or is the NHS to go from one crisis to another every year?

Osborne chose not to reply to any of the questions put by Balls but instead resorted to incoherent shouting that Labour's mansion tax proposals were a very bad idea and boasting about his new tax regime on property.

Interestingly, Osborne had nothing to say on the chronic housing crisis that affects millions of people in Britain but instead focused solely on people who are buying property.

He proudly announced that if re-elected the Tories would introduce another £15bn of public spending cuts in the first two years.

He seemed proud that, by freezing public-sector pay, £12bn has been taken out of the pockets of public-sector workers, saying that he expects to do the same in the next Parliament.

He also intends to take a further £1.3bn out of public service pensions.

So, taken together, a further £28bn is due to be cut from public services and the staff who deliver them.

Ominously, on top of the benefit cap introduced at the beginning of this Parliament, Osborne now proposes a freeze of universal credit work allowances, and is proud that beyond the cuts he announced in benefits four years ago, he's managed to "save" a further £1bn in this area.

Essentially his Budget, like all his other Budgets, pretends to be in support of creating jobs and lowering business tax rates, making everyone better off.

The reality is that by deliberately lowering tax income from the richest, depressing wages and forcing more people on to zero-hours contracts, he is actually making the majority of the population worse off.

The continued pressure on budgets in the NHS is leading to longer waiting times for consultations and operations, and is leading to the rationing of some medicines and operations. The principle of a universal health service equally available to all is under dire threat.

Ten days ago, Parliament voted to support a private member's Bill by Clive Efford MP, which drew attention to the culture of contracting privatisation within the NHS.

I have just received a copy of an excellent NHS Reinstatement Bill prepared by Peter Roderick and Professor Allyson Pollock at Queen Mary College, University of London.

Their Bill proposes a reinstatement of the government's duty to provide for the NHS, the abolition of marketised bodies and marketisation within the NHS, and an end to the commissioning of commercial companies to provide services.

It also proposes bringing staff terms and conditions under the NHS Staff Council and, crucially, prohibiting the ratification of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as long as it includes health services.

Unfortunately, some of the problems that we face were brought about by the last Labour government's obsession with offering some NHS services to the private sector and private finance initiatives.

Yesterday Osborne set out the priorities of the Bullingdon Club boys in stark terms - lower taxes for those with the most, lower benefits for those with the least, lower wages for those at the bottom end and a promise of greater job insecurity in the future.

Balls asked a number of very good questions about income levels, apprenticeships, training and the effects of the benefit cap on women.

But we need to go a lot further and argue for the living wage to become the minimum wage and a huge housebuilding programme to deal with the housing crisis that affects millions who have no prospect of ever buying their own property. We need to defend the health service from the Tories and from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

We know what motivates the Tories, it's time to motivate the opposite.

 

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.

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