Ed Balls's response to the Autumn Statement: full text

"We know they’re not very good at shooting badgers...they're not very good at shooting other people’s foxes either."

Mr Speaker,

The whole country will have seen today that, for all his boasts and utterly breathtaking complacency, the Chancellor is in complete denial about the central fact which is defining this Government’s time in office.

That under this Chancellor and this Prime Minister, for most people in our country, living standards are not rising, they are falling year on year.

So Mr Speaker, let me ask the Chancellor to demonstrate that he’s not completely out of touch with the cost of living crisis facing millions of people in our country.

Can he confirm that on average working people in our country are £1600 a year worse off than they were when he and the Prime Minister took office?

And that today’s OBR forecasts show that prices will continue to rise faster than wages this year and into next year too?

And that, as a result, people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010?

Mr Speaker, isn’t this the truth – after three damaging years of flatlining, after the slowest recovery for over 100 years, from a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who said ‘we’re all in this together’ and then gave a huge tax cut to millionaires – working people aren’t better off under the Tories, they are worse off under the Tories.

And Mr Speaker, for all their complacent boasts, after three damaging and wasted years, for most people - in the constituencies of honourable members on all sides of this House - there is still no recovery at all.

So let me ask the Chancellor about the promises he made to this House on growth and living standards three years ago.

He said then that the economy would grow by more than 8.4 per cent by the end of this year.

But even after today's welcome upward revisions, growth is set to be half of that.

And Mr Speaker, didn’t the Chancellor pledge to get the banks lending – but net lending to businesses is now over £100 billion lower than in May 2010?

Didn’t he make the number one test of his economic credibility keeping the AAA credit rating – but it has been downgraded, not once but twice?

And as for his promise to balance the books by 2015, didn’t he confirm today that, in 2015, he is not balancing the books, he is borrowing £79 billion?

For all his smoke and mirrors he is borrowing £198 billion more than he planned in 2010.

More borrowing to pay for three years of economic failure. More borrowing in just three years under this Chancellor than under the last government in 13 years.

He used to say he would balance the books in 2015. Now he expects us to congratulate him for saying he’ll do it by 2019.

With this Government it’s clearly not just the badgers that move the goalposts.

And on energy bills, after their panicked and half-baked attempt to steal Labour’s clothes, we know they’re not very good at shooting badgers...they're not very good at shooting other people’s foxes either.

Because for three months the Leader of the Opposition has been calling for an energy price freeze.

And did the Chancellor announce an energy price freeze today? No he did not.

Can he confirm that when the energy companies have already announced price rises of £120 this year, his policy will still see energy prices rise by £70 this winter?

Mr Speaker, under this Chancellor, the only freeze this winter is the one facing millions of people who can’t afford to heat their homes.

Does he really think he can get away with tinkering around the edges? Moving the green levies that his own party introduced off the bills and onto the taxpayer and - surprise, surprise - letting the energy companies completely off the hook. They’re not paying a penny, Mr Speaker.

Doesn’t he realise that for millions of hard-pressed families, pensioners and businesses across our country, nothing less than a freeze will do?

And rather than hard-pressed taxpayers, it should be the excess profits of the energy companies that pick up the tab?

And as for the Prime Minister’s flagship policy for families of a tax break for marriage.

Why won’t the Chancellor admit the truth and tell the Prime Minister that this policy won’t even help the families he claims it will?

Because his own Treasury Minister has finally let the cat out of the bag.

I have it here in black and white. The Exchequer Secretary says “just under one-third of… married couples” will get the married couples tax allowance. And just one in six families with children will benefit.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s claim in this House a few weeks ago, a married couple where both are paying basic rate income tax will get no benefit at all.

No wonder, Mr Speaker, his own Chancellor has this week told the Daily Telegraph that he thinks the Prime Minister’s policy is, and I quote, ‘a turkey of an idea’?

A turkey! The Chancellor thinks the Prime Minister’s flagship policy is a turkey. Merry Christmas, Prime Minister, Merry Christmas.

On this one I think the Chancellor’s right – the Prime Minister’s policy is a turkey of an idea.

I have to say, Mr Speaker, on the cost of living crisis and energy, and on supporting families, this Government just doesn’t get it.

And there’s a reason why this Prime Minister and this Chancellor are so out of touch that they believe most people are better off: it’s because the people on their Christmas card list have seen their bonuses rise and their taxes cut this year?

We have a Prime Minister and Chancellor who will stand up for the energy companies, they’ll stand up for the hedge funds, they’ll stand up for people earning over £150,000 – who get a tax cut.

But they won’t stand up for the millions of families and pensioners in our country, people struggling with rising energy bills, falling wages and higher childcare costs.

We all know and agree that rising life expectancy means we are going to have to work longer and that the Chancellor’s failure on growth and the deficit over the last three years means more tough spending decisions to come in the next Parliament.

But when the country is crying out for a government that will work with business to promote investment and wealth creation and build an economy that works for the many and not just the few does this Chancellor really think he can get away with tinkering at the edges, let the free market rip and wait for wealth to trickle down?

Mr Speaker, isn’t what the Chancellor has announced today the clearest evidence yet that they just don’t understand the scale of the challenge we face if we are to secure an investment-led recovery that works for all and not just a few – a strong recovery that’s built to last?

So let me ask the Chancellor, with housebuilding under this Government at its lowest level since the 1920s, doesn’t he see: his Help to Buy scheme to boost mortgage demand can only deliver a strong and balanced recovery if - as we and the IMF have urged - he matches it with more supply by building more affordable homes?

And can he tell the House why has infrastructure output actually fallen by 15 per cent since 2010? No wonder the CBI is upset.

On investment, why hasn’t he used the money from the planned increase in spectrum licence fees to endow a proper Business Investment Bank?

On tax avoidance, can he tell the House why has HMRC reported that the amount of uncollected tax rose last year?

And with almost one million young people now unemployed, a record number of people who want to work full-time being forced to accept part-time work, the work programme a flop, the welfare bill rising, and, as we learned today, the Universal Credit in complete and utter chaos.

No mention of Universal Credit in the statement. IDS: In Deep.. Shambles.

Isn’t the fact Mr Speaker, for all the shambles and chaos and rising welfare bills, what he has announced on youth unemployment is too little too late?

Help only for the under 21s only happening in the last weeks of this government in 2015.

Why isn't he being more ambitious? Why won't he repeat the successful tax on bank bonuses to pay for a compulsory job for young people – a job they’ll have to take or lose benefit?

Why won’t he remove the winter allowance from the richest 5 per cent of pensioners?

And why won’t he reverse his tax cut for hedge funds and protect disabled people in our country by scrapping the unfair and perverse bedroom tax?

Why won't he go further on the Bank Levy to expand free childcare for working parents and make work pay?

Can he confirm that, even after what he has announced today on fuel duty and his increases in the personal allowance his VAT rise, his cuts to tax credits and cuts to child benefit mean that on average families with children are worse off because of this Chancellor’s budgets. That's the truth Mr Speaker.

Giving with one hand, taking away much more with the other.

Mr Speaker, energy bills still rising this winter, no real action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, no proper plan to earn our way to rising living standards for all and not just a few. Surely Britain can do better than this?

This complacent Chancellor sits there and thinks he deserves a pat on the back. I have to say, with bank bonuses rising again and millionaires enjoying a big tax cut, this is a policy which is working for a few.

But, as this Autumn Statement shows, with this out of touch Chancellor and Prime Minister, hard-working people are worse off under the Tories.

Ed Balls speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty
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On the important issues, Louise Casey all too often has little to say

Far from moving the debate on, this new report on integration adds little to the report I commissioned in 2001. 

For 15 years, “numerous government reports on community cohesion and integration have not been implemented with enough force or consistency” concludes Louise Casey’s review of  integration.  The government’s lukewarm response suggests their effort will be as “diluted and muddled” as all the rest.

There’s a deeper reason why governments shy away from the measures that are needed. The report's wealth of data sets out a stark if sometimes contestable picture of a divided society.  But no amount of data can really bring the lives of our fellow citizens to life. As the Brexit vote underlined, this is now a nation divided by class, geography, education, wealth, opportunity and race. Those divisions colour the way we live our lives, the way we see problems in society, the relations we have with others, and our political choices. The report, like many before it, stops short of setting out that reality. It’s easier to pretend that most of us pretty much agree on most things; but just few people don’t agree and they must be the problem. Predictably, much of the early coverage has focussed on the Muslim community and new migrants. If only it were so easy.

According to Casey “in this country, we take poverty, social exclusion, social justice and social mobility seriously” and we do it “across political divides”. Apparently “creating a fair, just society where everyone can prosper and get on” is a cornerstone of British values. Yet for page after page the report chronicles the serial failure of this benign consensus to tackle educational under-performance, and economic and racial disadvantage. If we all agree, how come we haven't done anything about it?

These problems are not certainly easy to solve, but more lip service is paid to tackling them than effort. The practical material issues documented here need addressing, but punches are pulled when hard answers are needed. Given the dramatic impact of mass migration on cohesion, is integration possible while current rates of immigration persist? Can we find the political will to tackle poverty and disadvantage when those who might benefit from the effort are divided against each other by suspicion, race, geography and values? After all, rather than progressive policies producing a cohesive society, social unity is the precondition for the introduction of progressive policies.

We don't actually actually agree on what our “fundamental values” mean in practice. We can all sign up to democracy and the rule of law, but as soon as those are put into practice – see the court case on Article 50 – we are divided. When judges are popularly seen as “enemies of the people” and a vote in an elected parliament as a threat to democracy, in what sense are law and democracy fundamental?

Casey usefully highlights how treating homeless families equally, irrespective of ethnicity and length of residence can create the perception that minorities are being favoured over long standing residents. Our differing views on what is “just” and how “fairness” are defined can tear us apart. Is it fair to favour the newcomer over the indigenous? Is it just to put length of time on the waiting list above housing need? We often don't even acknowledge the legitimacy of other points of view, let alone try to find common ground.

The continual invocation of Britain and British values lends an air of unreality to the report.  Most people in England include British in their identity, but Englishness and English interests are of growing importance. In a worrying development, some areas of England  may be polarising between a white Englishness and an ethnic minority Britishness. Integration won't happen without a shared national story that combines a unifying national identity with the acceptance that we all have more than one identity that matters to us. Ignoring the reality of complex and multiple identities closes off one essential way forward.

None of this means that the criticism of some reactionary and occasionally dangerous ideas and practices in the Muslim community should be ignored and not confronted. But in a country where the established church opposes homosexual relationships and praise for Vladimir Putin's Russia is now mainstream politics it is hard to believe that all our problems can be reduced to the behaviour of a minority of a minority community.

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University