EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: Government must address the regional inequality that has grown on their watch

I am writing this before entering the Chamber to hear the Chancellor announce the Budget.

Thursday, 12th March 2020, 12:00 am
Updated Thursday, 12th March 2020, 12:00 am
Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street, London, before heading to the House of Commons to deliver his Budget. Pic: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

In 2019 there was no Budget due to the General Election, so this is the first Budget of this Government.

So far there have been promises of ‘a decade of renewal’ an ‘infrastructure revolution’ and a ‘levelling up’. Just like the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, these are all catchy phrases which ring hollow if they aren’t matched with meaningful investment and if people don’t see any improvement to their lives and communities.

The Tories have presided over a decade of decline, where we have seen record levels of poverty, including in-work poverty. We have seen people dying homeless on our streets. Our hospitals are losing key and vital services, our high streets are full of boarded up shops, public services are decimated and cruel welfare reform has led to utter despair and unprecedented levels of personal debt.

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The investment needed to repair the damage of the Tories’ making will need to go way beyond what they have promised.

The Chancellor needs to show that the Government has a strategy beyond ‘levelling up’ to address the regional inequality that has grown to such an extent on their watch, that life

expectancy in the North East for women in the poorest 10% of communities hasn’t simply stalled, but is going backwards. At the same time, the richest 10% of Londoners have three and a half more times wealth than the entire North East. The current situation with the Coronavirus outbreak will hit families who are already disadvantaged even harder. They may not have the

means or finances to enact the advice to self-isolate.

The Chancellor said at the weekend that the NHS will get ‘whatever it needs’ to cope with the Coronavirus. The NHS will struggle to cope with this crisis is because it has been stripped

bare by his Government over the last ten years. He also stated that because the economy is in a good place, the country will manage this virus. Sadly, this is simply not true. Over the last decade we have averaged a 0.3% productivity growth, business investment has been flat, growth was just 1.4% in 2019 and we have the slowest economic recovery in over a

century with poor growth in real wages. Incomes are falling for the poorest in our communities, record numbers of people are on zero hours contacts and cuts since 2010 have dampened

GDP growth every year. This is not the record of a Government that has a handle on our economy, nor a Government that is prepared for disruptions on any scale, let alone the challenges that Coronavirus, climate change and other events will bring.

As with every budget, away from the bluff, bluster and catchy phrases, the detail will be what gives the Tories away. The rhetoric may have changed but the top team hasn’t - the Chancellor, Prime Minister and the entire Government frontbench voted enthusiastically for the misery of the last ten years- there is no indication that they have changed their views, they’ve just changed the language they use.