The End of Austerity?

Commentary by William McFadyen.

The Chancellor Phillip Hammond delivered his budget to Parliament last Monday (29th Oct), with huge increases in spend, particularly a welcome boost for healthcare. Some of the proposals have left political idealists on either side of the spectrum reeling; Like Anthony Joshua had just got off the Virgin train from London, and express delivered a political right cross to their ideology.

“Our hard work is paying off and the age of austerity is over,” Hammond said during his speech.

So many financially generous increases were announced- increases which could make Jeremy Corbyn himself blush. NHS funding, for example, is to increase by £20.5 billion by 2024- that’s TWICE the increase proposed by Labour (I know, right?) £20 million of that annual boost for healthcare is to be earmarked for mental health, with a new crisis system consisting of an emergency hotline and a devoted mental health unit within every Accident and Emergency department.

So ultra Conservatives, driven mad by the prospect of increased spending, can expect a better standard of healthcare. I myself sprayed tea over the coffee table, when I witnessed a Labour MP chastise the government for neglecting to increase the defence spend on a BBC commentary show. Political sterotypes have been dumped on their heads.

A new tax is to be imposed upon tech giants like Google (UK digital services tax), which set up Hammond for a terrible pun at the expense of former deputy PM Nick Clegg, who has recently been appointed an executive at Facebook. One particular spending measure; a business rates relief for public toilets “so that local authorities can at last relieve themselves”- seemed to be engineered purely as a device to precede the atrocious, grandad level pun.

The new shopping list goes on for quite some time. There’s a one off boost worth £400million to be set aside for education. A decrease in the band for high rate of income tax will benefit middle class professionals (like our senior teachers and nurses). An increase to the amount that one can earn whilst also claiming universal credit will see 2.4 million working families £630 a year better off… I could go on but Hammond bored me so I’d rather not bore you.

Perhaps, though, it really is too good to be true. Opposition parties claim that the measures “don’t go far enough” to bridge the gaping fissures in our current system, like the newest spike in the use of food banks since the implementation of universal credit. There was no increase announced for investment into climate change research or renewable energy sources, for example. In real terms discounting health, only an eighth of what the Conservatives have taken out, has been put back by these measures.

There was one curious, or even sinister, wee announcement at the start of the Chancellor’s speech: “The Spring statement may be upgraded to a full fiscal event” – akin to another budget. With pressure growing on the government to call an election daily and support for the Labour party mounting too, are the Conservatives bluffing only to move the goalposts in the event they manage to hold on to power for another term?

The Clyde Insider doesn’t think so, and certainly hopes not. Keep an eye on your politics though.

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