This Monday, I was called to speak on the budget.
Once again, it was necessary for me to speak out about the indefensible funding cuts to Bedfordshire Police.
We heard from the Chancellor that despite serious violent crime rising, he isn’t going to give the funding that successive Chief Constables have been asking for, that the previous Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins asked for, that the current PCC, Kathryn Holloway is now asking for.
In the last month in Bedford alone, we’ve seen three murders. Two people, one a teenager, died from stab wounds and this weekend a shooting of a man in his 20s.
And it’s all because of the Government’s austerity agenda and we’ve seen on Monday that austerity hasn’t ended at all.
Although the Chancellor made a big deal of more funding for the NHS and for those transferring to Universal Credit, working people will not feel any benefit, with real earnings to remain stagnant. According to the OBR UK wages won’t return to their pre-financial crisis peak until at least 2024. That’s 16 years until pay is fully recovered – the longest wage slump in 200 years.
Outside of the NHS, public sector cuts are unchanged. The poorest people in Bedford Borough won’t see a meaningful change to their financial circumstances, as all benefits remain frozen as the cost of living continues to rise.
The extra £1.7 billion announced for Universal Credit is offset by the £12 billion of cuts as the Government ploughs ahead with its welfare reform despite it forcing people and families into destitution, food bank use and homelessness.
Schools will still be worse off in real terms over the year ahead. It’s an insult.
Austerity is a false economy. The cuts that have been made to public services are already, and will continue, to increase wasteful spending. It’s happening across the board: legal costs are pushed higher when disputes take longer to move through the courts, avoidable by reinstating legal aid. More children are being taken into care, increasing child protection costs, avoidable by removing benefit caps, and reinstating a full provision of mental health and other much needed services. The list goes on.
As a strategy, it is not only misguided but damaging to economic growth. TUC reveal growth in the UK’s economy is lagging compared with other G7 nations. Extra spending when the economy is weak is necessary to rebuild public finances, and the Government yet again fails to spend money where it its needed: public services must be strong before we can expect the economy to follow suit.
As I said in the Chamber, the chancellor needs to take a look at his figures again and come up with a better deal. He needs to wake up because there’s a terrible human cost when you make the wrong choices about public spending, and we’re seeing the effects of it now.