The Autumn Statement: A missed opportunity

Last week’s Autumn Statement was a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity for the Government to help with the cost of living crisis that thousands in Lincoln are struggling with, and — in political terms and as polling shows — a missed opportunity for the Conservative Party to correct their reputation as concerned only with the privileged few.

Whilst it should go without saying that the return of growth to the British economy is to be welcomed, listening to George Osborne deliver his statement last week, you’d be forgiven for thinking wage packets were growing and everyone was doing quite well. I wish this were true.

Osborne’s self-congratulation for the recent growth in the economy is wide of the mark. This is now the slowest recovery on record for over 100 years. Since the Spending Review in 2010, the economy has grown by just 2.5% in total. Compare this with the 7.7% that Osborne himself predicted, the 6.4% growth in the USA or even Germany 4.4%.

Osborne’s pitifully slow recovery matters to people because it has meant that prices have been rising more quickly than wages. The average person in work has been £1,600 worse off every year since 2010 and, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported soon after the Autumn Statement, it’s set to get worse – in fact, people are projected to be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010. This will be the first parliament since the mid-nineteenth century when the average family will be worse off at the end than at the beginning.

The Autumn Statement was an opportunity for the Chancellor to acknowledge the cost of living crisis, and to show people that he understands by making a difference. Instead, we got a panicky series of half measures because the Chancellor knows that he must be seen to be dealing with the cost of living but he doesn’t really understand what normal families are going through.

For example, a marriage tax break was introduced which won’t benefit two thirds of married couples or five in six families with children, a concession to the energy companies which means energy bills will still go up by £70 this winter, and an inadequate plan for business rates, so businesses will still see rates go up over £250 in April.

A snap poll by Ipsos Mori after the Autumn Statement told Cameron and Osborne what they didn’t want to know. It found that 24% of us agree with Osborne that his plan for the country is working, whereas 40% agree with Labour that Osborne is in denial about the cost of living crisis. 42% of people thought the Autumn Statement was bad for “people like me”, whereas 47% of people thought it was good for “rich people”.

What we need is a long-term plan to tackle the cost of living crisis and earn our way to higher living standards for all, not just the privileged few. We need action to get more homes built, expand apprenticeships, reform the energy market and back small firms by cutting, not increasing business rates. We also need action to make work pay by expanding free childcare for working parents and a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed.

Most of all, we need a strong recovery built to last that benefits normal, working families, not just a privileged few at the top.