George Osborne said his 2016 budget was putting “the next generation first” and making Britain “fit for the future”.
Well let’s take him at face value and have a look at that. Without a credible challenge from the opposition it looks like we’re going to be stuck with a Tory government until at least 2025 so looking to the future would seem the prescient thing to do.
So, what will the UK look like after nine more budgets under this government? Ironically it might appear more like Victorian Britain, if current trends continue.
The gradual erosion of the welfare state continues and, as usual, the most vulnerable have to bear the brunt with some disabled people facing cuts of £30 a week to their benefits. With a further £3.5bn of undisclosed cuts still to come before 2020, there’s no prize for guessing where these are also likely to fall.
Food bank use is at record levels with over a million emergency food bank supplies given in 2014-15 alone. In-work poverty is growing and child poverty is set to increase by 700,000 by 2020 according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Meanwhile real term pay is falling for millions of people and with one in forty workers now in jobs that don’t guarantee a minimum number of hours, job insecurity is rising. It won’t be long before welfare will be a matter solely for charities and philanthropists. Workhouse anyone?
Without any real efforts to tackle the country’s housing crisis, soon home ownership will be effectively barred to all but the top tier of earners. These investors will make even more money buying and selling their ever-appreciating assets in the ludicrous bubble we call a housing market.
Meanwhile the rest of us will be paying our hard-earned cash into the pockets of exploitative private landlords, providing them with a second income while we struggle, on zero-hours contracts, to make even one. And with the continued decline in social housing, these same landlords make over £26bn in benefits from the taxpayer alone.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
With junior doctors and other staff pushed to their limits, and with the door opened to increasing privatisation, the government’s abolishment of the NHS continues apace. Indeed some commentators are already saying that our NHS is no longer a public service in legislative terms. Coupled with a £22bn funding “black hole” over the next five years, the NHS is at crisis point. Osborne’s response in this budget? No extra funding for the NHS. Oh, but we do have a sugar tax, so that should help…
With the NHS recording its worst ever performance in January, it won’t be long surely before the government has ‘no choice’ but to institute a fully privatised health system, one that would be more familiar to Florence Nightingale than Nye Bevan.
Despite our Paris pledge, the government continues to back fossil fuels with a continuing freeze on fuel duty and £1bn worth of tax cuts to the oil and gas drilling industry. This incentive to find new sources of oil comes despite repeated warnings that we must leave most of the fossil fuels we’ve already found in the ground to stay below the 20 global warming target.
With February smashing global temperature records by a “shocking” amount, it looks like climate disaster could be closer than anyone predicted. And yet Osborne still goes short-sightedly digging for more black gold. If trends continue as they are, this government could bequeath the next generation environmental disasters that make Victorian air pollution look pleasant.
Productivity and growth
With growth figures revised down for 2016 compared to the autumn statement, followed by successive drops in 2017 and 2018, it seems the only way this government isn’t taking us back to Victorian times is in terms of productivity and growth. Like China today, we used to be the workshop of the world. Now with manufacturing output barely recovering from a six-year low, and with the government’s pathetic commitment to infrastructure spending, we are more like the tea shop of the world.
Oh but I forgot – we do have the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. How the great Victorian industrialists of the North would laugh if they could hear that phrase coming from this government.