The new Chancellor just delivered his first Autumn Statement and the first since the European Union referendum in June. As 'experts' predicted, and despite the machinations and lies of Leave campaigners, Brexit has forced the Chancellor to admit that the Government would be borrowing £122 billion more than it expected over the next five years. These figures are despite our continued EU membership and should cause concern amongst even the most ardent Brexiteer - although Farage was last seen disappearing into Donald Trump.
Coalition and Tory failures since 2010
Since 2010 Labour have warned that the need was to invest: in our future through education and upskilling the future workforce; in homes whilst rates were low and demand going through the (absent) roof; and in infrastructure like bridges and roads and high speed broadband we need to compete having now fallen behind even Estonia. Miliband and Balls were ignored by Cameron and Clegg who never once met their fiscal targets despite an agenda of cuts and asset stripping that would have shamed Thatcher.
Tories and Lib Dems are responsible for the public sector pay freeze and job cuts that have demoralised so many. For the NHS crisis with hospitals now set to close and the first all out A&E strike in NHS history. For a strike by judges - unheard of in legal history. For cuts hitting even disabled children and leaving some destitute and reliant on the explosion of foodbanks picking up the pieces from their callous policies.
Under their watch the national debt has more than doubled to more than £2 trillion. We are now set to borrow up by an extra £12.7 billion this year alone.
Since 2010 the housing crisis has been almost entirely ignored. Home ownership has fallen; homelessness has tripled; and new starts in house building are at their lowest since the 1930s. The Chancellor today committed some extra funding for 40,000 new homes in England. The waiting list just for council homes in Southwark is more than 10,000 to put this into context. The Government lacks ambition or interest in this issue. Shelter suggest we need to be building 250,000 homes per year.
It is welcome news (sneaked out yesterday) that the Government will not be pursuing 'pay to stay' for some families in affordable homes. But failing to build sufficient homes - of all types - means greater problems for the future. It seems the only thing the Government is building is a headache for the next Labour Government to tackle.
In a more positive win for London, the Government has agreed to Mayor Sadiq Khan's request for greater housing funding for our capital. He has secured triple what the former Tory Mayor had accessed for London - with £3b now set for affordable homes which I hope will benefit us in Southwark!
Infrastructure and Broadband
I've been calling for the Government to fund projects such as Rotherhithe Bridge and Bakerloo line extension. I'm glad to hear the announcement that there will now be a National Productivity Investment Fund of £23bn which will be spent on innovation and infrastructure over the next five years. I will be continuing to push the Chancellor to direct some of this funding to local projects - and am glad to have recently helped win the London Mayor's backing for the new pedestrian and cycling Rotherhithe Bridge by 2020.
Broadband is also a big issue locally, particularly in Rotherhithe. Hammond pledged today to give over £1billion for broadband and 5G. I will continue to monitor this and to push broadband providers to do more with this increased budget, especially BT who have not met their local plans and have left local people without this vital service.
Localising some employment support and education services
I welcome the commitment to localise some employment support. This will be for the 'hardest to reach groups' and is likely to include carers and disabled people for example. The Government's flagship 'Work Programme' was introduced by Iain Duncan Smith in 2010 with Lib Dem support and has been dreadful. It's employment track record is about 12% and one report suggested people would be more likely to find work without using the scheme - ie it was worse than nothing.
Sadly, it replaced viable schemes that had local involvement (by councils and charities) and it complicated processes for national organisations to be involved and has been a case in point of how not to run employment support. I have called for its reform since working for a disability charity in 2010 and for a greater role for charities and councils in providing support to target groups. I am glad the Government seems to finally be listening - although the devil will inevitably be in the detail.
I am also cautiously supportive of the announcement that adult learning budgets will be devolved. It is imperative that this pledge however is met with adequate funds. Too often the Coalition and Tory Governments have used the 'localism' agenda to hide cuts and have devolved responsibility for issues without resources. Southwark has suffered badly as a result and I am working with Unite to establish some adult learning courses that would help in education and employment issues for local people.
Hammond claims there won't be further welfare cuts in this Parliament. However, for many in work but on low pay and requiring tax credits and housing benefit the reality is some cuts have not yet filtered through and will leave many families worse off. It should shame Ministers that the fastest growing group of people living in poverty in the UK are in work.
The Chancellor did announce a 2% reduction in the taper rate of Universal Credit. This is a pitiful attempt to gloss over this disastrous policy. It will leave some local families £2,300 a year worse off and has wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers money and is light years away from the delivery targets originally set by DWP.
Sadly, even people with long term health conditions and learning disabilities still also stand to lose £30 a week in benefit cuts even when assessed and determined by DWP as not being fit for work now. It had been hoped that Hammond would address this concern - as it only got through in its final Commons votes after MPs were told the people affected would be compensated through additional help elsewhere. That extra support has been delayed but the £30 a week loss is still pressing ahead.