Today the Chancellor will rise in the chamber to deliver his first Spring Statement. The government has already briefed that “There will be no red box, no official document, no spending increases, and no tax changes”.
The Chancellor says this will be a brief speech, shorn of the usual announcements, commitments and rabbits pulled from hats. Instead, what we’re promised is an update on government forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility.
If the financial commentators are correct, the Chancellor will report that actual growth was higher than expected and that borrowing this year is lower than expected – maybe by as much as £10billion.
More than a decade on from the global financial crisis, and the years of ideologically driven cuts that followed, it’s clear what the Chancellor must do. It’s time to start investing properly in public services and end austerity once and for all.
The government’s own figures show the impact of continuing attacks on public services. Last month saw the publication of the worst accident and emergency waiting time figures since records began, and the National Audit Office now says the real terms reduction in government funding for local authorities between 2010/11 and 2017/18 is a staggering 49.1%.
Social care and children’s social services face funding crises that are putting the elderly and vulnerable children at risk. And for public sector workers, after almost a decade of pay freezes and pay caps, the need for a wage rise is real and urgent.
Yet still it seems – despite a potential improvement in the public finances – that the Chancellor’s set to do nothing as he watches public services further deteriorate, or even disappear.
Every job lost and every service cut is a tale of countless opportunities lost and lives changed for the worse. Austerity has been a national calamity, wilfully and deliberately entered into – its continuation is nothing less than an attack on our communities, in a dogmatic attempt to slash the size of the state and cut back on the vital services we’ve all come to rely on.
Today Philip Hammond has a clear opportunity to invest in public services and in the pay of the staff that provide them. He can halt the decline and spell out to the whole country – and especially those in the public sector who’ve suffered under his government’s austerity measures – what his plan is for public services.
If he has no realistic intention to fund public services, and is content instead to see them withdrawn, leaving councils breaching their statutory obligations and the NHS continuing to struggle, then he should stand aside.
Perhaps then we might see a budget, a government and a country truly run in the interests of the many, not the few.
Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON