Last week we saw an announcement with very little substance which was headline-driven and given a gloss due to surprisingly positive announcements on tax revenue.
While we saw results on campaigns which the Liberal Democrats and I have fought tooth and nail for, such as scrapping tax credit cuts and stopping the policing cuts, we have seen George Osborne take an axe to communities across Britain all for their commitment to unnecessarily cutting £12 billion from the Welfare budget.
We should also be wary of the changes to universal credit which could quite possibly replace the tax credit cuts fiasco as the Government’s next attack on working people who have been saved for now from pain but not in the future. Furthermore, as I raised in the Commons immediately after the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Chancellor now owes the 3 million hard working families who were set to lose money through the proposed cuts an apology for the unnecessary worry he has caused them.
There were five particular changes in particular which The Liberal Democrats and I will fight against as we believe they highlight the Government’s unwillingness to invest in the future and protect our communities.
- The Cuts to the Education Services Grant will see local authorities lose £75 per pupil in educational support. This will have a huge effect on the educational chances of children throughout the country, especially those from less fortunate backgrounds. This announcement totally undermines the commitment to ‘protect’ education funding.
- We have also seen the terrible news that real term cuts to Further Education will mean that approximately £400 million will be taken from colleges. This will make it harder for people to develop the skills our country needs for the future.
- The slashing of support for renewable energy destroys so much work the Liberal Democrats did in Government. Cutting solar and onshore wind support by £130 million and cutting green taxes for energy heavy industries by nearly half a billion will once again put our country on the wrong path to fighting climate change and addressing global warming.
- The Government has abandoned renters in this statement, with only 4% of people in the private rented sector being helped by the announcement of 400,000 new homes, a figure which is itself far too small. To tackle the housing crisis we need direct government funding of affordable social homes to rent, this is something which has not been addressed.
- The final point is that the Government’s attack on local communities is an attack on the elderly, the young and the poor who rely on social services. Councils will all feel the strain from these announcements and local communities will be put under great pressure. The Chancellor’s statement will also have major impacts on local bus services, schools and colleges.
Along with the good news regarding tax credit cuts and policing, we can all be very happy to see that the Government has listened to the Liberal Democrats and have included extra investment in mental health following the tireless campaigning by my friend and colleague Norman Lamb MP. Furthermore, the announcement that the Lib Dem policy of free school meals for children has been protected is fantastic news.
What our country needs now is a party to stand up to these cuts in a strong way and to present a cohesive and fair solution to legitimately oppose the Tory Welfare cuts. What we are seeing however from Labour is a party in a crisis with huge internal divisions and a leadership which appears happy to not challenge the Conservatives in a credible way.
The Liberal Democrats are the party however which are able to stand up and provide a credible alternative. We understand that we must tackle the deficit but know that we need to implement fair policies which don’t hurt the hard-working families the Tories are happy to attack. The Liberal Democrats believe that now is the time to be investing in our future, supporting business and enterprise and planning for the long term, rather than continuing with ideologically-driven cuts.