The UK 2017 budget has just been presented by Chancellor Phillip Hammond of the Exchequer to the Parliament. Total UK public spending for fiscal 2017 is £784.1 billion and its key spend sectors are: Pensions £156.9 billion, Health £142.7 billion, Education £85.2 billion, Defence £45.6 billion and Welfare £113.1 billion.
If you watched the televised Parliament proceedings on the budget, you cannot but notice that the debates centered on issues affecting the poor and ordinary working families. The key spend sectors of the budget tell the same story. Focus was majorly on the National Health Service (NHS), Social Care and Education.
Then there are the matters of support and funding for minority children, the disabled, child care support, the elderly, elderly patients, relief fund for thousands of pubs and small shops and rural areas development, women, workers pay, workers allowances etc
The Chancellor declared the purpose of the budget is: "To support ordinary working families to grow the country's standards of living" through real wages growth, raising the national minimum wage, supporting parents, increasing personal allowances and raising free child care entitlements.
Also for business rates, there is a £435 million package for small businesses including £1000 cut for pubs (there will also be no increase in alcohol tax also called "sin tax" to help pubs), £2 billion for social care over the next three years and £100 million for hospital programmes.
He stressed "concern for the next generation" and asked "will our children enjoy the same opportunities as we enjoyed?" Thus to support its education reform, the government is funding 110 new free schools added to 500 existing free schools plus new specialist maths and technical schools as well as free transportation for all the children attending the free schools.
Chancellor Hammond however called for high productivity saying "higher productivity means higher pay." The UK currently enjoys economic growth with strong tax receipts from workers and businesses. It plans to cut its borrowing by £5.7 billion to £40 billion. Its national public debt is high at £1.72 trillion or 28% of the GDP. There would be increases in personal taxes in particular for small businesses and the self employed along with increases in national insurance bills.
But Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader of the Labour Party dismissed the budget as "complacent on workers and is built on unfairness." He noted that ordinary working families pay half their income as taxes though their pay remains low with the national minimum wage below 2008 levels despite current economic growth.
He stressed that the 2017 budget is not working for millions of workers, for poor neighborhoods, for public services workers as nurses, fire workers, for children in poverty, pensioners, workers without housing and children with high school debt and urban transportation.
He said workers in the UK face crises in job security with millions not sure if they have jobs or will be paid, as 100,000 workers are on zero contracts, 4.5 million workers have insecure jobs and one million on contracts. Also that 3 million workers claim housing benefits because their incomes are not enough to pay rents.
Corbyn accused the Conservative Party government of funding few big cats at the top with generous give away tax breaks. He said these wealthy few earn 180 times more than the average families while housing crisis for working families is worsening at the lowest levels since the 1920s with cuts in housing benefits. The plight of workers is made worse, he said, with the government's negative decision to raise income and national insurance tax.
Bottomline is that this kind of debate on how the budget affects the standards of living of the poor and ordinary working families is absent in our National Assembly and state legislative houses. Instead, our legislators comb the budget for contracts and deals they can grab from ministries and parastatals.
Written By Ken Tadaferua