By Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves
The mess we are in is the result of 12 weeks of Conservative chaos and 12 years of Conservative economic failure: growth dismal, investment down, wages squeezed and public services crumbling. And what does the Chancellor have to offer today? More of the same, with working people paying the price for his failure. The Chancellor should have come here today to ask for forgiveness. At the very least, he could have offered an apology but, no, instead he says his predecessor was correct in his analysis at the mini-Budget that put our economy into freefall. All the country got today was an invoice for the economic carnage that this Government have created. Never again can the Conservatives be seen as the party of economic competence.
It has been clear for weeks what the Government want to do. Step one: blame global factors. Step two: pretend the mini-Budget has nothing to do with any of them. Step three: portray the Chancellor and the Prime Minister as the people who can clear up the mess of their party’s own making. And step four: attempt to lay some so-called traps for the Labour party. They have even had George Osborne in to advise them on how to party like it is 2010.
But this is not a game. This is about people’s lives and livelihoods. This is about people’s ability to pay the mortgage, to pay the rent and to pay the bills after 12 years of Conservative stagnation that have left our country so much worse off. It is about the fact that, when the global storm hit, we were uniquely exposed because of the choices that the Conservatives made.
Nobody doubts that the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have had profound implications, and the whole House is united in its condemnation of Russia’s aggression, but Britain’s problems started before the covid pandemic and before Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The UK has grown by an average of 1.4% a year under the Conservatives, compared with 2.1% a year in the previous Labour years. We are the only G7 economy that is still poorer than before the pandemic.
This is the price of a decade of Tory choices and economic failure, and it is set to continue, with the IMF forecasting that, of the 38 most industrialised economies, the UK will have the slowest growth of any of them in the next two years. The Chancellor is saying today that he will be honest, so let us be honest. No one was talking about cuts to public spending two months ago, and no other advanced economy is cutting spending or increasing taxes on working people as it heads into recession. This Government have forced our economy into a doom loop, where low growth leads to higher taxes, lower investment and squeezed wages, with the running down of public services, all of which hits economic growth again. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the last decade, they are simply repeating them. We need to break free from this vicious cycle of stagnation, with fairer choices and a proper plan for economic growth.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – not their fault, they claim.
The Chancellor and Prime Minister are trying to convince us that Britain faces problems that are nothing to do with them and that the mini-Budget, which imposed a Tory mortgage premium, put pensions in peril and trashed our reputation around the world, was all just a bad dream. It is their Bobby Ewing strategy, with Downing Street as “Dallas”. Old cast members return as if nothing has happened, with tangled plot lines to keep the audience, but the truth is that the series has lost all credibility and everyone knows it is long past time that it was cancelled. The problem for the British people is that this is not a dream. This is the everyday nightmare of Tory Britain.
The Conservatives would have us believe that they are not responsible for the last 12 years of failure. In doing so, they take the British people for fools. Millions are already worried sick about how to make ends meet and now face the added stress of higher mortgage payments, the prospect of home ownership becoming more and more remote, and rents going through the roof.
What does that mean? Family holidays cancelled, savings depleted, hopes for the future replaced by sleepless nights, and all of that on top of the fact that the average worker is earning less today than when the Tories came to power 12 years ago. The Government have presided over the biggest wage squeeze in centuries. This was a crisis made in Downing Street and it is ordinary working people who are paying the price.
As I was coming into Westminster today, I read a timely warning from the police about pickpockets in the area. They warn: “You may have an idea of what a pickpocket looks like but they’re far less likely to stand out in a crowd than you might think…they may work in teams to distract the target…One of their tactics is…where a thief will appear to be over-friendly…while pick-pocketing you.”
I must report that in the last hour the Conservatives have picked the pockets, purses and wallets of the entire country, as the Chancellor has deployed a raft of stealth taxes taking billions of pounds from ordinary working people—a Conservative double whammy that sees frozen tax thresholds and double-digit inflation erode the real value of people’s wages.
Just one of those freezes in the personal allowance will cost the average earner more than £600, making it even harder to make ends meet. At the same time, the Government are forcing local councils to put up council tax. The Chancellor seems to have confirmed today a council tax bombshell worth £100 for a typical band D property, taking council tax for such properties above £2,000 for the first time. Local people, including those with Conservative councils, will be forced to pay more because of the destruction that the Conservatives have wreaked on our economy.
This comes at a time when councils are already in dire straits because of cuts made by Conservative Governments. They probably sat around the tables in Downing Street thinking that this was some clever trick, but no one is to blame except the Government that have been in power for 12 years—not local authorities, but this Tory Government—for more taxes, more inflation and higher mortgages. Instead of tricks and stealth taxes, why do they not have a proper economic plan for Britain that puts working people at its heart? Why do they refuse to have a real industrial strategy that gives business certainty, unlocks investment and means that Britain can once again lead the world in the industries of the future?
Downing Street – “rampant waste and cronyism from this Government continue apace”.
The Chancellor is trying to claim that today’s statement is fair, yet we learn that of all the things that he could save from the wreckage of the kamikaze Budget that he chooses to press ahead with, it is their plan to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses. At a time when he is urging wage constraints for everybody else, how can he remotely claim that that is fair?
After weeks of, “Will he? Won’t he?”, we learn today that the Chancellor will not, after all, be clamping down on non-doms—tax free income for millionaires while millions face frozen tax allowances and council tax highs. How can he possibly claim that this is fair? He refuses to act, and I wonder why. Maybe that was the only policy that he cannot get signed off by No. 10 Downing Street. I say if you make Britain your home, you should pay your taxes here.
What about the private equity managers, earning millions, who benefit from a tax break on their bonuses, which means that they pay far less tax as a proportion of their incomes than ordinary hardworking people? Did the Chancellor close that loophole today and make sure that they pay their fair share of tax? He did not. He made ordinary working people pay the price instead.
Time and again we have seen how quick the Conservatives are to raise taxes on working people. The Chancellor has even compared himself to Scrooge. He is asking working people to take the hit, with less money in their pockets in the run up to Christmas, but also for years to come. But if you are a banker, a non-dom or a private equity manager, do not worry: Scrooge has not cancelled your Christmas. [Interruption.]An hon. Member asks from a sedentary position, “What about taxes?” Well, non-doms do not pay taxes—that is the whole point. The Government could close that loophole today.
And that is before we even get on to the energy giants. After months of resistance from this Prime Minister, the Government have finally been dragged, kicking and
For those wondering why some energy giants have paid no windfall tax in the last quarter, despite record profits and eye-watering bills for consumers, the answer is that decisions that this Prime Minister made when he was Chancellor, confirmed by the current Chancellor, let the energy giants off the hook once again.
The Government have announced plans for energy bills next year, but bill payers will still see prices go up next spring, leaving far too many people wondering how they will make ends meet. For every pound of windfall tax left on the table, people are faced with higher prices on their bills. The Tories’ failure on energy goes back much further. They closed down gas storage, blocked onshore wind and solar, and slashed support for home insulation.
Today the Chancellor says that he will act on energy efficiency, but I am afraid that is all far too late. We called for the insulation of 2 million homes a year more than 12 months ago. That could cut bills by £1,000 not just for one year, but for every year to come, and they did nothing. Insulation levels in 2021 were 20 times lower than in 2010 because of their neglect, and now he proposes a package, but we have to wait until 2025 for them to act. Why? People are facing a bills crisis now. Years and years will have gone by while he sits back. Millions of families could have been helped and they have not been.
And still the Government block renewable power, such as onshore wind, that could bring energy bills down, create good jobs in all parts of the country, and ensure that Britain can lead the way in the industries of the future. Clean power is the right solution to the energy price crisis, but, yet again, the Conservatives have failed. They have failed to protect us from future shocks, failed to tackle the cost of living crisis, and failed to take the decisions in our country’s national interest. It is because they have failed to grow the economy that they are having to bring forward yet another statement with tax rises and spending cuts.
The last Prime Minister [Liz Trust, pictured right] and Chancellor embarked on a reckless sugar rush that abandoned fiscal rectitude, and the Conservatives all cheered for it, but the current Prime Minister and Chancellor have given up on growth altogether. How do we know? It is because the Office for Budget Responsibility has seen their plans and downgraded growth in the months and years ahead.
Achieving the levels of growth that this country needs is not like flicking on a switch. We need a serious long-term plan to get our economy growing again, powered by the talents and efforts of millions of ordinary working people and thousands of businesses. We need a fairer, greener, more dynamic economy, creating good jobs in every part of the country—in homegrown renewables, in green hydrogen, in carbon capture and storage—with Labour’s green prosperity plan and a modern industrial strategy where Government work hand in hand with business, properly fixing business rates so that small businesses and our high street businesses thrive again, fixing the holes in the Government’s Brexit deal to help UK businesses to trade and compete in the world, and ensuring that Britain is the best place in which to start and grow a business. That is what a Labour Government will do.
While our public services are struggling and working people are being stretched, the rampant waste and cronyism from this Government continue apace. It does not seem to concern the Chancellor that his Government dished out £3.5 billion of contracts to friends and donors of the Conservative party. The latest Prime Minister spent so much time when he was Chancellor practising his signature for his glossy Instagram graphics that he failed to put in place even the most simple checks on covid support. That is why the former Treasury Minister, Lord Agnew, described the current Prime Minister’s fraud failures as “schoolboy errors”. The Prime Minister left the doors to the vaults wide open to organised criminals and drugs gangs who helped themselves to £6.7 billion of taxpayers’ money—money that the Government are failing to retrieve.
Last month, it was slipped out that the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce, set up to get this money back, is being wound down. The Government have just given up and the Conservatives are turning yet again to our crucial public services to make up the money. The fraudsters may think that they have got away with it, but a Labour Government will hunt them down for everything that they have taken from the taxpayer. The country is sick of being ripped off by the Tories; we want our money back.
It is because of Tory failure that our crumbling public services are set to suffer even more. Ordinary people lose yet again. Never before have people paid so much in tax and yet got so little in return. At the weekend, the Chancellor admitted that the NHS was already on the brink of collapse. With 7 million people on NHS waiting lists, how much longer will that list get?
Three in 10 people are leaving education without GCSE English and maths. What will that do to our society and our future economy? Why do the Tories have an ideological objection to putting VAT on school fees, which the Chancellor himself admits would raise £1.7 billion? By their actions it is clear that the Government do not value our public services or the contribution of those working in them. What do we hear today? Reviews on schools, the NHS workforce, social care and waste, but what we need is action. Now is the time for delivery, not more reviews.
The Chancellor had previously said that one of his biggest regrets as Health Secretary was failing to fix social care. Today, he has further delayed the Government’s much-promised social care cap. This is yet another broken promise, after 12 years of Tory failure on social care. The Tories have trashed our public services and the statement today has proved that they are doing nothing to turn that around.
The Conservatives have crashed our economy, given up on growth and sent inflation through the roof and, as usual, it is ordinary working people who are paying the price. It is a familiar tune. Every mortgage they raise, every cut they make, every tax they hike, the Conservatives are costing you. What have we heard today? Yet more excuses and unfair choices. They have failed to tackle the cost of living crisis. They have failed to show how they will fix our public services. They have failed to show how they will deliver growth. They have no plan for the future of our country. After everything we have heard today, and after 12 long years of Tory failure, the conclusion we must come to is that Britain can no long afford a Conservative Government.