Phillip Hammond’s Budget speech focused on the “home-owning dream”, which apparently the majority of this country have been eagerly waiting to achieve. They’ve slightly expanded this dream of owning our own home at some arbitrary point in the future, while issues of rent arrears and houses unfit to live in are the daily reality of our population. If they’re serious about winning students and young people over, they should be focusing on the private rented sector as much as our tuition fees being frozen at a bargain £9,250 and cheap flights to Ibiza.
It is clearly part of a wider project to socially engineer the working class by disempowering tenants and helping landlords who, with no more regulations or rent controls, will continue to exploit us with soaring rents, unsafe homes and insecure tenancies. With the increasing influence of private companies in the provision of housing, there are still no incentives to ensure houses built are “affordable” and that this term is better defined around real wages.
The Chancellor continues to offer far under what is needed to address homelessness, with zero self-awareness that increasing in work poverty, councils not being able to borrow to build enough homes and changes to housing benefit pursued by his party have been the causes of many people falling into rent arrears and being made homeless. Theresa May has overseen the exponential increase in the use of food banks, directly linked to Universal Credit changes, and rising homelessness; after seven years in power, they offer no systemic change and continue on the same destructive trajectory.
Scrapping stamp duty land tax is an appealing line for the press release, deflecting attention away from the fact that ideological austerity has decimated our public services and living standards without closing the deficit, bringing the debt down or increasing growth (Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell could have predicted this for us a decade ago).
Falling real wages mean any deposit is unattainable for most people and the affordable homes promised (again) are still defined as 80% of market rate. The Conservatives’ housing policies support those who already own property and at worst these policies will raise house prices as sellers compensate and house building is still insufficient. We’re waiting for this housing bubble to crash and the Conservatives are carrying on obliviously. There are better ways than scrapping SDLT to spend £600million investing in genuinely affordable housing, which would help the majority of people.
Maybe one of the most telling, and frankly laughable, parts of the budget was the extension on the age of the 16-25 railcard. It emphasises how shamelessly out of touch the Conservatives are, as if young people can ignore their need for higher wages that enable them to afford extortionate travel in the first place. The glaring failings of rail privatisation and outrageous profits funnelled to the top 1% after receiving billions in government subsidies cannot be overlooked. The railcard extension is an attractive sounding policy which covers up blatant use of public money to line shareholders’ pockets.
The Conservatives are papering over the cracks of a crisis they have created and offer the next generation token gestures from the dispatch box whilst young people continue to see their living standards and real wages plummet. As RMT general secretary Mick Cash puts it, there is a “toxic combination” of Conservative policies holding down wages whist allowing fares to rise.
Employment was announced at an all time high; so what does that mean for young workers? Not a lot. In-work poverty is a national crisis and the minimum wage (£7.83 for over-25s) trails behind the living wage (£10.20 in London). By definition, people working full time in Tory Britain cannot afford to get by.
Still nothing is offered to tackle outright age discrimination in the minimum wage; apprentices continue to earn £3.70 an hour, and under this budget I can still be legally paid £5.90 an hour yet I’ve been financially self-sufficient for almost three years.
As a young person this budget offers me nothing and it has only confirmed what we already knew: the economy is worse off under the Conservatives. As John McDonnell said, it’s simply not good enough.
Lara McNeill is the vice chair of Labour Students