Since Philip Hammond sat down at the end of his first Budget statement, he has faced considerable criticism, understandably, for breaking manifesto commitments. At a time when trust in politicians is at an all time low, the Chancellor – who appears to pride himself on being steady and reliable – should have known better.
Yet what he should really be criticised for isn’t the Budget’s duplicity, but its inadequacy. On three of the biggest issues of the day the Chancellor has tried and failed to claim that the government have solved the nation’s problems. Three times he claimed he was taking action and making investments when in reality his government’s record is one of inaction and cuts.
One of this Budget’s supposed headline spending commitments was an additional £2bn for social care. Yet this is only meaningful investment if the years of social care cuts this government has presided over are discounted. In addition the spending is spread over three years and it’s completely inadequate compared to the scale of the crisis.
While the Chancellor has – at long last – woken up to the reality of a situation exacerbated by his austerity government, the money announced yesterday won’t end the extreme rationing of care. In reality the government is just treading water, as it waits for a real social care plan to emerge.
Meanwhile on the NHS, the government is still tinkering while the health service crumbles. It’s insulting to deny the health service, patients and all those working in it the funding lifeline that would secure its future. If it were a hospital, the government would be put into special measures for this shoddy performance – especially as the Chancellor duplicitously claims he’s funding the NHS properly, something no-one in the health service believes.
And on pay, the Chancellor claims we are living through a time of real wage growth – even as inflation spikes, food becomes more expensive post-Brexit and the pound weakens. Yet for millions of public servants that simply isn’t the case. They’re still squeezed by a derisory 1% pay cap whilst inflation runs at around twice that level – making them poorer with each passing year.
These are the people keeping the NHS, schools and local communities afloat in tough times. The pay boost for Westminster politicians should’ve signalled a decent pay rise for the rest of the public sector, yet there was nothing in the Budget to relieve their ongoing pay pain. As wages rise elsewhere, public sector workers are being left further and further behind.
Today Philip Hammond will be licking his wounds after a media savaging on national insurance. But the reality is that millions of public sector workers – and the vital services they provide and which we all rely up on – have been hit far harder. NICs may get the headlines today, but our crumbling public services are the unexploded time bomb the Chancellor and his successors must deal with to avoid ruin in the years to come.