The tradition of Budget week has continued for another year. We start off with a Budget being announced on the Wednesday and headlines running it’s delivered a land of milk and honey. Then people delve into the small print and see just how bad things actually are. The Chancellor said we will avoid a recession… technically. Alarms bells started to ring as soon as I heard that. What we’ve since learnt is the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) has revealed the economy will bump along the bottom and we will still lag behind comparable countries. 13 years of Tory Government has utterly failed us.
The Tories completely lack ambition for the country, but they particularly lack ambition for young people. There was nothing in this Budget for young people, particularly on housing help. There was a failure to reform the apprentice levy as promised, and they are still not doing enough for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The apprenticeship levy is a massive failure. New apprenticeship starts are falling backwards; the cohort is made up mainly of people in senior positions; and only 13% of degree-level apprentices come from neighbourhoods in the bottom fifth of deprivation, with twice as many coming from the most advantaged backgrounds. That is not good enough. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to improve social mobility in this country and to show young people from disadvantaged areas that they have the capacity to improve their situation for themselves and their families and that they are able to contribute to society while doing this. This Government are putting far too many hurdles in front of our young people and leaving too many to fall behind their peers. I saw during my recent Apprenticeships Fair the vast appetite that there is for support for apprenticeships among both young people and employers. They all see the value in supporting young people into traineeships that allow them to earn money while they learn their skills and know how important they become to employers and companies.
The Government have broken their promise to fix social care. The stark reality is that more than 150,000 people have died waiting for state social care, and 57,000 people would have received support and they now will not. The Chancellor has promised far less funding for adult social care than he recommended when he was Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. At the weekend, I was pleased to join the Bristol Women’s Commission at its event on the caring economy and how it can add to our productivity. We looked at the infrastructure for carers, improving working conditions, and pay and skills for low-paid care workers. That is what this Government need to be doing. I commend the work of the BWC. Support for and investment in social care does not have isolated benefits: it is desperately needed to support the NHS and ensure that those in hospital are those who need to be and not those who have nowhere else to go, it offers good work to hard-working people within their communities (although it desperately needs funding to improve wages), and it can lower the levels of loneliness that too many people experience in our sometimes-disjointed communities.
Overall, there is nothing in the Budget for the west and the south-west. Again, we have been completely ignored by this Government. Transport is a crucial issue for us in Bristol South. We can support tackling the climate crisis and moving towards net zero only if we have a functioning transport system, and this Government simply do not care about that. Many of my constituents rely on buses; the elderly and young people going to education need a bus service. With the end of the bus recovery grant, my constituents would like to know what on earth the Government are going to do to support them. It looks as though the only mention of the west country in the Red Book is in the section about Devon, which says we are going to get some money to deal with potholes. That is literally the only mention of the west and the south-west that I can find in this entire Budget. If that is the best that that wall of Tory MPs across the west country can come up with, I look forward to them disappearing. Much more could have happened on this, as we are a good, functioning economy. The Red Book has 116 pages, but there is nothing in it for Swindon, Bristol, Filton, Plymouth, Stroud, Truro or Falmouth. It is a complete waste of our time for the south-west, and the sooner the Tories go, the better.
Back in Bristol, I was pleased to have meetings with Doug Claringbold, Managing Director of First Bus, and some GPs and Practice Managers from south Bristol about the various challenges they face in providing services locally. Many of the issues faced need to be resolved at a national level and I am always grateful to those in the front-line sharing experiences and ideas with me.
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