Diana Johnson: Little comfort for a North hit by savage cuts

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FEW people in Hull will be taken in by the Tories rebranding themselves as the “workers’ party”. Some changes, such as the cut to bingo tax, are very welcome after some of the shambolic proposals we had in previous Budgets, like the caravan tax and the pasty tax in the infamous omnishambles Budget.

I listened very carefully to what the Chancellor said about building a resilient economy and delivering security for people in this country. Hull and the Humber should be at the forefront of fighting many of the challenges facing this country, such as climate change, generating green energy and developing the science of flood prevention.

I believe we could turn issues that are seen as problems and costs into a positive opportunity for growth in the economy, but looking at this Budget in relation to Hull and the Humber, my constituents will be asking the following questions. Does this Budget help the real wealth creators and invest in the modern public services an efficient, growing economy needs? Does it help, for example, the part-time women workers I recently met in a Tesco in Hull who told me about the problems they were having in getting extra hours to make ends meet and pay their bills?

Hull has the 19th highest unemployment level in the country. Will this Budget help the 4,265 people still out of work in Hull North? Will it do anything for the long-term young unemployed, in particular? Will it deal with the problem of those not in education, employment or training? It will not do any of those things. As the TUC said, this is a “short-term Budget…to shrink the state and help the rich”.

Thanks to the coalition’s confusion over energy policy, we are still awaiting good news from Siemens. If Siemens does not come to Hull, the jobs building wind turbines will in effect be exported out of the UK. Climate change deniers in Ukip might welcome that, but it would be a disaster for the economic regeneration of my city.

The Budget also failed to announce rail electrification to Hull, but there was some good news with a subsequent announcement.

It is interesting to note that, because of recent events, the coalition has now realised that flooding is a major economic problem. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that the Thames Valley was affected and the playing fields of Eton were flooded.

I am pleased that the Chancellor announced additional money for flood defence work, but of course that should be seen in the context of the Government’s slashing the flood defence budget in previous years. As those in any area that has been flooded know, spending £1 on flood defences saves £8 in the cost of clearing up after a flood, so such investment makes sense.

On flood insurance, I note that the Chancellor is extending the Help to Buy scheme. Advertisements encouraging people to buy are plastered everywhere in places like Kingswood in Hull North.

However, it is a shame that other parts of the Government do not seem to think that houses
should be built in areas like Kingswood, because they 
will not be able to participate in the flood insurance scheme
that the Government have negotiated with the insurance industry.

I should also point out that the new garden city at Ebbsfleet will be in a flood-risk area, and the owners of the houses built there will not get flood insurance under the Government’s scheme. It seems that one part of the Government does not know what the other part is doing.

On the cost of living crisis, there has been much fanfare about raising the personal allowance, but we know that five million of the poorest workers gain nothing from that increase. Many of those will be women.

We are seeing the shocking growth of charity dependency in 21st century Britain, which is the seventh-richest nation. That is Dickensian in a digital age. It is tragic for the life chances of millions of people that after the coalition inherited an economy that had returned to growth in 2010, we have had three years of flatlining. Places such as Hull and the North have suffered the most from, for example, the savage cuts to council funding, despite the coalition Government’s rhetoric about rebalancing the economy.

The poorest people in the most deprived areas have been hit hardest by the coalition Government. We have a bedroom tax, but we have no mansion tax. We have bank bonuses for some, but we have food banks for many. The new £1 coin neatly sums up Lib Dem involvement in the coalition. It is not the 12 sides that we need to worry about; it is the two faces. This is another Bullingdon Budget from a coalition of two parties representing one privileged class and creating two nations.