David Cameron and George Osborne promised us that we were out of the danger zone and their economic policies were working. Yet when you separate the rhetoric from the reality, it is a very different story. It is a story of unfairness. As a result of today’s budget that was mostly announced to the press before Parliament, Barnsley is a town that is worse off and forgotten about by our Prime Minister and Chancellor.
I say that because the Government have failed to stimulate a climate conducive to jobs and growth and Barnsley risks being a town forgotten once more. The Government thinks that by attempting to balance the books, at the cost of fairness and economic growth, they are doing what is in the national interest. The truth is, their decisions will have a detrimental impact on the lives of people in Barnsley and Britain.
At a time when everyone in the town is being squeezed by rising petrol, gas and electricity prices and higher living costs, when many will see their working tax credits cut, when 3,083 people in Barnsley Central are out of work and there’s a national deficit to clear, it is the wrong priority to cut taxes for people earning over £150,000.
It proves beyond any doubt that Cameron and Osborne have drafted a budget for the millionaires rather than the millions.
A year ago the Chancellor said his Budget would “Put fuel into the tank of the British economy”. On the same day I rose, for the first time in the Chamber of the House of Commons, to make my Maiden Speech.
That day I said, “The real test of this Budget is whether the voice of the country had been heard, whether the evidence had been heeded and whether the Government had listened on jobs and on the cost of living. They have failed this test.”
A year on and I could have said exactly the same thing.
Nick Clegg will try to claim a victory in the next few days, weeks and months. He will claim that a rise in the income tax threshold to £9,205 in 2013 will help two million families, including many in Barnsley.
This is naive. I don’t need to tell you that right now, the rise in the regressive VAT tax is hitting lower earners harder. Next month’s changes to the tax credit system will also drain more money out of family homes whilst the average cost of living continues to rise. It means that the £346 extra a year that basic taxpayers’ will be in receipt of, will amount to actually very little money in people’s pockets.
So I come back to my point; how is it fair to make the rich, richer whilst the poor become poorer? It makes a mockery of the Tory mantra that “We are all in this together.”
I don’t expect the Chancellor to be able to do everything. What I do expect is that there is a basic fairness in all that he does. Too often when the national media talk about tax dodgers, the narrative tends to focus on those at the bottom of society on benefits. The reality is, the country is losing billions of pounds from a selective group at the top of society avoiding payment of their tax.
Similarly, the Chancellor has proved that he is not interested in helping the young people in Barnsley who are working and who want to progress. By freezing the national minimum wage for everyone under the age of 21, the Chancellor is reducing their ability to put money into Barnsley’s economy and help local businesses survive these tough times.
The Chancellor said Britain would have to “earn our way in the world.” I don’t disagree with the premise, but for over three thousand people in Barnsley Central that is difficult when some businesses are making people redundant, cutting back hours and closing all together.
What Osborne has to understand is that the Government could and should play a part in stimulating the economy. The reality is, Barnsley needs to brace itself for more of the same from the same old Tories.
Osborne’s announcements today that he is cutting so fast because of his desire to “pay down the debt,” shouldn’t leave anyone believing that it is working. As the Editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson observed during Osborne’s speech, “He's [Osborne] taking national debt from £1 trillion today to £1.4 trillion by 2014/15.”
Inevitably, there is understandable anxiety and frustration across the town today. We need a Government that is prepared to protect towns and communities like ours, not simply let them be ravaged by unemployment and poverty. David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg have failed the people of Barnsley today. And we should never let them forget it.