NHS heroes and North betrayed by Rishi Sunak’s Budget – Rachel Reeves

FOR someone who talks in his Budget about being “honest” with people, there was a great deal the Chancellor Rishi Sunak choose to hide by simply not mentioning.

With so many people worried about the impact of Covid-19, this was his opportunity to lay the foundations for an economic recovery and offer long-term support for those who need it. The Chancellor failed to do that.

The success of the vaccine programme has given us hope we are emerging from this terrible health crisis.

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However, instead of rewarding the heroes of the pandemic for everything they have done, the Government is proposing to give NHS staff in England a pitiful one per cent pay rise, effectively amounting to a pay cut. That is nothing short of a scandal and a kick in the teeth for all those who deserve a fair pay rise.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street on Budget day.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street on Budget day.

There will also be £4bn cut from public spending. In fact, his plans for the NHS will mean a drop of £30.1bn in funding next year. There was nothing from him about fixing the NHS and social care.

This comes when the NHS is under the most intense pressure in its history and faces a huge backlog in operations, cancer checks and the ongoing cost of dealing with coronavirus.

We will struggle to break the chain of transmission as long as the Government refuses to give people decent sick pay or better financial support if they need to isolate.

The Chancellor did mention the £22bn spent on Test and Trace this year and the £15bn earmarked for next year which is key to tackling the virus. Yet, there was no word on how this will be spent.

There is bemusement that Richmond in Rishi Sunak's constituency is being favoured for Budget funding over areas like Barnsley and Sheffield.

Given the scandalous way this Government has awarded Covid contracts to its Conservative cronies and the huge waste on outsourcing, the Government must be transparent about where these funds will go. In my Shadow Cabinet job, I will keep demanding answers about how taxpayers’ money is spent.

After a year out of the classroom for the vast majority of children, there was no mention in the Budget of young people, the impact on their mental health or wellbeing and nothing for schools facing extra Covid costs or teaching staff.

Joining the Chancellor’s “missing in action” list was the Government’s limited trade deal with the EU which did not merit a single mention in his speech or the full 102-page Budget report published by the Treasury.

The Chancellor did listen to warnings from Labour that he must not pull the rug from the most vulnerable by ending the £20 Universal Credit top-up. Most of the people receiving it are in work, but struggling on low pay or reduced income via the furlough scheme.

Rachel Reeves is a senior member of the Shadow Cabinet and Labour MP for Leeds West.

However, he failed to heed our call that this lifeline for Yorkshire and Humber’s more than 400,000 Universal Credit claimants should be made permanent. Instead, the Chancellor said the measure – worth £1,000 a year – will end in six months.

With unemployment set to peak at 6.5 per cent later this year as the furlough scheme ends, cutting that payment could not come at a worse time for my constituents in Leeds West and elsewhere.

The heartless move will see around 500,000 people, including 200,000 children, plunged into poverty in winter, according to experts at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The Chancellor did little to address the huge inequalities in funding for the North, though he did mention two initiatives in our region. These included UK’s first infrastructure bank will be based in Leeds from where it will channel an initial £12bn into major infrastructure projects. The Chancellor said the bank will invest in sectors like renewable energy, carbon capture and transport, as well as provide low-rate loans to councils to fund projects.

The bank’s base in Leeds will be very handy as the people in charge will see at first hand what a decade of under-investment in our region under the Conservatives has meant.

I am sure there will be a queue at their door to press the case for schemes like Northern Powerhouse Rail which would include a new line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford and better links between Leeds and Newcastle and Hull.

If there was one Budget announcement that summed up this Government’s approach to investment and tackling inequality, it has to be the £1bn “Towns Fund”. Of the 45 places in England getting funds, almost 90 per cent will go to areas where there is a Conservative MP, while there is nothing for places which badly need investment like Armley Town Street in my constituency.

As the Financial Times noted at the Chancellor’s press conference, his seat of Richmond is on the “Priority One” list of a new Levelling Up Fund. Yet, Labour-held Barnsley is “Priority Two”.

I welcome investment anywhere in Yorkshire, but we should be prioritising areas of greatest need and where it will have most impact. These decisions tell you all you need to know about this Government’s priorities.

The Chancellor had the chance with his Budget to listen to Labour and invest in jobs, improving public services and making the most vulnerable feel a little more secure, but he blew it.

Rachel Reeves is a senior member of the Shadow Cabinet and Labour MP for Leeds West.

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