Wirral MP criticises spring budget in parliament

Margaret Greenwood MP has criticised the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s spring budget, saying that it has given tax breaks to the very wealthy and it has “sidestepped the most pressing issues, including the cost of living crisis that is causing misery to millions”. 

The budget was delivered last Wednesday by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and MPs then spent a number of days debating it. 

Making a speech in the debate this week, Margaret Greenwood pointed to analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which highlighted that the decision to maintain the freeze on personal income tax thresholds until 2028 will put 2.1 million people into the higher rate tax band and force 3.2 million people into paying tax for the first time. 

The Wirral West MP said that it is difficult to see how that will not have an impact on child poverty. 

She also drew attention to the absence of support in the budget for the 7.1 million adults in England – more than 16% of the adult population – who are deemed functionally illiterate and who she said “face immense barriers in life”. 

As part of the budget, the Chancellor also announced that sanctions in the social security system would be “applied more rigorously to those who fail to meet strict work search requirements or choose not to take up a reasonable job offer”. 

Margaret Greenwood expressed concern about this and pointed to overwhelming evidence in academic research showing that benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting people who do not have jobs into work and that they are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill health or even survival crime. 

The timing of the announcement of the policy to apply sanctions more rigorously was also questioned by Margaret Greenwood – it came just one day after it was reported that the government had been ordered to release its own sensitive research into whether fining benefit claimants is effective in getting them to take a job or work more hours. 

The release of this research has been blocked by Conservative ministers for a number of years, but the Information Commissioner ruled last week that “there is a particularly strong public interest in scrutiny and understanding of the information available to those deciding whether to continue with a controversial policy such as sanctioning benefits.” 

Speaking after the debate on the budget, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “The Chancellor’s budget was extremely disappointing on so many levels. 

“He has failed to address the cost of living crisis, and he has failed to reverse the running down of public services which has been going on since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. 

“For example, he failed to address the acute financial challenges being faced by schools in terms of paying staff, buying resources and heating their buildings, as well as the fact that, according to the government’s own research, the risk of collapse in one or more blocks in some schools in England built between 1945 and 1970 is now rated as very likely.  

“Alison Garnham, the Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, has rightly pointed out that there was no mention in the budget of the four million children living in poverty in the UK. This is a matter of very real concern. Poverty impacts on a child’s development and their ability to learn, and of course it impacts on their wellbeing and happiness. It is simply wrong that millions of children are going hungry, yet the Chancellor has given a tax break to the very wealthiest. 

“The Chancellor’s announcement that the government will apply sanctions more rigorously in the social security system is also a matter of extreme concern. 

“The Welfare Conditionality Project – a team of academic researchers – has previously found that sanctions ‘do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek, or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes’.” 

“The government must think again on this. 

“The government also appears to have abandoned the 7.1 million adults in England who have very poor literacy skills. If those people are to improve their prospects in life, then the government needs to treat them as a priority. 

“This is a budget that failed to address both the cost of living crisis that is facing millions and the desperate state of our public services after 13 years of Conservative rule.” 

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