Barry Gardiner

Working Hard for Brent North

Why Barry voted against the Budget

Barry criticised George Osborne's Budget for making Britain more divided, in a speech to Parliament last week. 

You can watch Barry's speech online here. 

These are the words from a doctor’s report about a constituent of mine.

“He could not, due to impaired mental function, reliably initiate or complete at least two sequential actions.

He cannot cope with any change due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder, to the extent that day to day life cannot be managed.

Engagement in social contact is always precluded due to difficulty relating to others or significant distress experienced by the individual.

He has, on a daily basis, uncontrollable episodes of aggressive or disinhibited behaviour that would be unreasonable in any workplace.”

This is the medical descriptor for my constituent who was placed in the WRAG Fit to Work group in 2012 and has languished there for four years.

We have a flawed mechanism for assessing a person’s functional capacity.

I quote again,

“My husband was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and has not been able to work since. We are now reliant on the ESA he receives. There is nothing more that either of us want than for life to somehow return to normal and for him to be able to return to the job he loves.   We did not choose these dreadful circumstances - the benefits system is intended to protect those in society as much as possible when things go badly wrong. Forcing people in very difficult circumstances into poverty seems an outrageous way for any government to behave.” 

My constituent is absolutely correct.

Over 9,000 Brent residents rely on ESA to live independently and with dignity. Their income has been cut by £30 per week. The PIP would have seen 640,000 disabled people lose up to a further £3,500 a year by 2020.

It is therefore with great relief that many of my constituents will have watched the government’s U Turn on the proposed £4.4 billion of cuts to Personal Independence Payments. But disabled people in my constituency have already suffered real hardship under this government:

The bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the benefits uprating policy, scrapping Disability Living Allowance, and the 12 month time limit on contributory ESA.

But disabled people aren’t just facing vicious cuts – they have additional costs as well. They have seen vast hikes in charges for essential services due to deep cuts in local government funding

  • 13 per cent increase in meals on wheels charges
  • 33 per cent transport costs
  • and increased charges for care as £2bn has been taken out of care budgets by local authorities.

Even a small drop in income for the disabled can push them further into poverty and dependence. Disabled people have the right to live independently and to enjoy an adequate standard of living and ill thought out, rushed reforms will end up costing more money.

Yesterday the new Secretary Of State for Work & Pensions said in his statement that the government will not be making further cuts to the Welfare Budget.

But that gives the Chancellor a serious problem. He has a fiscal Charter which enshrines in law that he must achieve a budgetary surplus by 2019/2020.

Last Wednesday he believed that in order to meet that fiscal charter he had to make £4.4billion of cuts to the most vulnerable people in our society because he wanted to cut  corporation tax and capital gains tax and to raise the higher Rate Income Tax threshold to benefit the very richest.

If he is genuinely not seeking to identify other cuts to services to offset that £4.4billion then it is essential that we are told how he does propose to balance the books?

The choice is simple:

Make further cuts to services

Make tax increases.

Or fail to meet your own fiscal charter which was supposed to be one of the lasting reforms of this chancellor. Fail before you've even left office. And that looks like being sooner than he previously imagined.

This budget will do nothing to help the vast majority of my constituents in Brent.

My constituents in Brent who are in low pay jobs and high rent housing are afraid . For thousands of them the housing ladder is being drawn up and placed further out of reach as this government’s definition of low cost continues to outstrip what people actually earn.

When £450,000 is accepted as the low cost benchmark, what we are seeing is the social cleansing of London.

If you are poor you can only work in our great city if you live outside it.

London councils are now forced to house people accepted as being in priority need as far away as Birmingham.

The Chancellor had:

• Nothing to say to the 400 families with children, accepted as homeless and in priority need in the Borough of Brent.

• Nothing to say to over 3000 families or their 5,000 children currently living in temporary accommodation in the Borough of Brent.

• Nothing to say to over 4000 households, in Brent, on the waiting list for social housing.

Or the 600 families who are being evicted by landlords in the private sector.

Recently I was contacted by a 48 year old single grandmother, who had worked all her life but in 2011 found herself made redundant, after working in further education for eleven years.

She has continued to seek employment.  More recently she lost her home due to the increased costs she faced as a result of the bedroom tax – what the government benches like to call under occupancy.  Her council at that time – not Brent – failed to rehouse her in time and the accumulation of rent arrears as her housing benefit was reduced by 25% overwhelmed her.

This lady is now homeless and camping on a friends settees in my constituency, in unfamiliar surroundings and away from the place she called home for 30 years.

As a single woman, with no dependants or disabilities, she is considered as “not in priority need” and is told she should seek accommodation in the private sector.

Estate agents have told her they do not accept people on benefits.   This is not just an “unemployment statistic” or “someone on benefits” but a 48 year old professional educator who had spent her working life supporting the development of the next generation that this budget and this chancellor boasted it sought to help.

The Chancellor has always prided himself on being one of the most politically devious of the post war chancellors – setting political traps as he sees them for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

The inescapable facts of his record will come back to haunt this Chancellor.

In 2010 he promised to balance the books by 2015. He did not.

This year he has a deficit of £72billion.

In 2015 he passed his fiscal charter into law to ensure that all future governments would achieve a budgetary surplus by 2020. Which he is now £4.4billion short of meeting.

He has a debt to GDP ratio of 83.7%.  And Productivity failure means that manufacturing still lags behind the level it was at in 2008.

Last week the Office of Budgetary Responsibility revised down its growth forecasts not only for this year but for every year of this parliament. This budget – unprecedented in my 19 years in this House – has rescinded its own key element before it has even had the chance to be voted on. It is the failing budget of a failing chancellor who lacked the courage to come to this House and explain its collapse yesterday.

That failure branded him a coward.

Today he came to the House, but his failure to apologise to the most vulnerable in our society has branded him a nasty coward.

Worst of all it, is a budget that is failing the people of this country by entrenching division in our society. It cannot be said better than by the resignation words of the former Secretary of State who revealed that even he could not stomach the naked vote catching of this budget.

He said:

“I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.”

Neither can I. And so I will vote against this budget tonight.

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