At a glance, Philip Hammond's Budget yesterday was a fairly boring affair. Forecasts remained somewhat constant, levels of taxation were shifted up a little here and down a little elsewhere, there were a few spending boosts to certain areas and certain money grabs elsewhere, but all things considered this Budget was, on the face of it, quite a dull one. However, looking deeper, the Devil is in the detail.
Firstly, it's important to note the difference in the Chancellor's rhetoric on social care between the autumn statement and yesterday's spring Budget. Following his willful ignorance regarding the crisis in the sector - barely mentioning it in his hour-long speech at the tail-end of last year - the Chancellor yesterday, at long last, acknowledged the dire state of the care system. Following pressure from Conservative-run councils, NHS chiefs, and some backbenchers, Hammond announced a paltry cash injection of £2bn over the next three years which looks like a hefty sum until you realise that social care is running a £2bn deficit this year alone.
The social care system is chronically underfunded and has seen £4.6bn removed from its budget since 2010. This has left disabled young people and their carers dramatically overburdened and without much-needed support. Scope, a leading disability charity, found that 61% of young (17-30) disabled people want support to get involved in their communities but are not supported to do so, 60% are not getting the support they want to form relationships, 45% aren't getting the support they want and need to get an education, and 60% want their social care support to help them find and stay in work but their care package doesn't include this support. Hammond's woefully inadequate response to the growing crisis in social care shows that his rhetoric may have changed since last year's autumn statement, but the sentiment remains. Social care and those that need it most are not a part of this government's agenda, and they never will be.
An area in which Hammond seemed flushed with cash, however, was the creation of new "selective free schools." Make no mistake, this is nothing more than a rehash of the policy that the Prime Minister had to climb down from last year due to the virulent opposition and its rampant unpopularity. Yesterday's £310m announcement is grammar schools by the back door, and the rose-tinted nostalgia that comes along with a re-introduction of the grammar school system is the many-headed Hydra that seems impossible to kill. Selective education, far from the language often used by 'meritocratic' conservatives, deepens the social divide between the rich and the poor, and Hammond's meagre promise to help kids on free school meals with transport to and from their shiny new grammar school is an illusionary swindle of epic proportions.
Hammond has, whilst trying to sound progressive, exposed the truth about this government's pet project. The Chancellor says that kids on free school meals will get help, but what he fails to mention is that less than 3% of grammar school entrants are entitled to free school meals. 13%, on the other hand, come from fee-paying preparatory schools. This has nothing to do with the makeup of the catchment area by the way, because 66% of children who achieve level 5 in both English and Maths at Key Stage 2 who are not eligible for free school meals go to a grammar school, compared with just 40% of similarly high achieving children who are eligible for free school meals. Once again, the Devil is firmly in the detail. Hammond's smoke and mirrors in calling them "selective free schools" rather than grammar schools does nothing to hide the naked truth. Grammar schools fail young people from the poorest backgrounds, and simply changing their name does nothing to combat the classism that is inherent in the system.
Finally, we turn to the money that cannot be spent. We've seen underfunding in everything from social care to education, tax hikes on the self-employed and the lowest paid, paltry sums of money given to sectors that need a hefty cash injection just to stay afloat, and yet the Chancellor sees fit to spend £60bn on a Brexit war chest to ensure that his government's hard Brexit agenda doesn't damage the economy. This is an agenda that nobody voted for, but least of all Britain's young people. We are the ones now suffering from the underfunding of social care, the deepened divide in education, the increases in tax on the self-employed, the insistent failure to combat climate change, the refusal to include us in the National Living Wage, and all because the government wishes to satisfy its rabid backbenchers and drifting UKIP voters in pursuing a democratically illegitimate agenda. The Chancellor and his government have one goal and one goal only: hard Brexit at any cost, even if that cost is my generation's future.