Autumn Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 1:27 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:27, 22 Tachwedd 2023

Next year, we are forecast to be the slowest growing economy in the whole of the G7. When it comes to economic growth, under the Tories, we are more world-following than world-beating.

Let us look at how the Conservatives’ record on growth compares to Labour’s record on growth. Under the Conservatives, GDP growth has averaged 1.5% a year. With Labour, it grew by an average of 2% a year in the 13 years that we were last in office. Had the economy continued to grow at the rate it did under Labour, it would now be £150 billion bigger. What is the Government’s economic record? Lower growth and higher borrowing, with debt more than doubling—it is now at almost 100% of GDP. That is a product of their failures over 13 years. A Tory Government who have failed on growth, failed on debt, failed on levelling-up and failed on the cost of living, too. Now they expect the British people to believe them when they say they will turn it all around, when they are the problem, not the solution.

If we are going to grow the economy, we must get more people into work. Let me be clear: people who can work, should work. That is why we have long argued that the work capability assessment needs replacing, because right now it is discouraging people from seeking work. But there is a wider problem that yet again the Government are failing to face up to. Britain is the only country in the G7 where the employment rate still has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, with the increase in the number of people out of the workforce due to long-term health issues costing the taxpayer a staggering £15.7 billion a year. NHS waiting lists have swelled to 7.8 million—an additional half a million since the Prime Minister said he was going to cut them—and 2.6 million people are out of work due to long-term sickness.

A healthy nation is critical to a healthy economy. That is why Labour has pledged to cut hospital waiting lists, investing an additional £1.1 billion a year to deliver 2 million more appointments, scans and operations. It will be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status and replacing it with a modern scheme for people genuinely living in the UK for short periods. But, once again, we see that that policy has been vetoed by the Prime Minister. The best way to get people back to work is to get our NHS working, but the reality is you can never trust the Tories with our NHS.

The Chancellor has made great fanfare about public sector efficiency and value for money. That is from a Government who have blown £140 million on a discredited Rwanda scheme and yet are not able to send a single asylum seeker there, £7.2 billion of money lost on fraud during the pandemic—all those cheques were signed by the former Chancellor, the current Prime Minister—and £8.7 billion on personal protective equipment that has been written off. High Speed 2 is costing £57 billion, with not a single piece of track going north of Birmingham. No one can trust the Tories with taxpayers' money.

It says it all that after 13 years of Tory Government, there are still nearly 12,000 NHS computers running on outdated software that is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Ten years ago, when he was Health Secretary, the now Chancellor promised a paperless NHS by 2018, yet today, in 2023, 26 NHS trusts are still using fax machines. Why on earth should people who experience deteriorating public services under this Conservative Government trust them to fix that, when his six years as Health Secretary make him one of the biggest architects of failure? Mr Speaker,

“if you put your hands into people’s pockets and take money out of them, and they do not see visible improvements in the services they receive, they get very angry indeed.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2021;
Vol. 700, c. 851.]

Those are not my words but the Chancellor’s words two years ago. I agree with him. The Tories have had 13 years to improve public services and they have failed. This is too little and too late.

I do welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of additional funding to tackle antisemitism and Islamophobia to keep our communities safe, as well as the additional money for the Holocaust Educational Trust. There is no place for hate in our society, and I know that across the House we will work together to eliminate it.

The Chancellor calls this an autumn statement for growth, but it is Labour that has led the agenda on growth. Today, we see that the Conservatives have released their own poor cover version of what we have already announced. The Chancellor is talking about unlocking capital by reforming pensions, but Labour would go further, encouraging investment in British start-up and scale-up firms and introducing measures to ensure the consolidation of pension funds, so that our pensions system gets better returns for savers and for the UK economy.

On planning, the Conservatives are following Labour’s lead on taking money off bills for communities that host grid infrastructure and on speeding up planning decisions. What has taken them so long? Labour will get Britain building again, with a once-in-a-generation set of reforms to accelerate the building of our country’s national infrastructure and to build housing, too. We will fast-track battery factories, our life sciences and 5G technology, to grow our economy and provide good jobs in every part of our country.

We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that he will make full expensing permanent—another thing that we have been calling for. But that does not make up for the years of uncertainty that businesses have faced, with taxes going up and down like a yo-yo. Small and medium businesses, which play a pivotal role in growing our economy, are left exposed to the Tories’ economic volatility. Labour’s partnership with business will get our economy firing on all cylinders. That is why this week we established a new British infrastructure council, with key investors in the UK economy focused on unlocking private investment by addressing the delivery challenges that businesses face when investing in Britain. Through Labour’s new national wealth fund, we will work alongside the private sector to back the growth of British industries, so that we can make the crucial transition to a zero-carbon economy. For every pound of public investment, we will leverage in three times as much private investment, while also getting a return for taxpayers. Labour’s plan will boost our economy, get debt falling and make working people better off.

If we listened to Members on the Government Benches, we would believe that the cost of living crisis was behind us. But inflation is still double the Bank of England’s target rate. I know the importance of low and stable inflation from my time as an economist at the Bank of England. It is welcome that the Chancellor has accepted this year’s recommendations from the Low Pay Commission—which we set up—on the minimum wage, but the reality of the Conservatives’ record is that average wages for working people have been held back. Under this Government, real average weekly wages have increased by just 3% in 13 years, compared with a 27% increase under the last Labour Government—worth an additional £120 every week for someone going out to work every day. Today is Equal Pay Day, so it is important to recognise that the living standards of working women have also been held back by a gender pay gap that I am determined to close.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister say that the cost of living crisis has been dealt with. Everything might look a little better 10,000 feet up in a helicopter, but down here on planet Earth, people are approaching Christmas and the year ahead with worry and trepidation. The cost of living crisis has hit us harder because Tory mismanagement has left us so exposed. Some 11 million UK households do not have enough savings to cover three weeks of living expenses if they need it. Working families have been skating on thin ice for too long. As their resilience has been eroded, so has our national economy’s. Let us not forget that this Government oversaw the closure of our critical gas storage facilities, which left our country more exposed to huge fluctuations in international energy markets. The former Prime Minister—that is, four Prime Ministers ago—cut energy efficiency programmes, leading to higher bills for homeowners.

Just last year, we saw the true cost of the Conservatives when their kamikaze Budget crashed the economy, leading to market turmoil, pensions in peril and a spike in interest rates. Some 1.6 million families will see their mortgage deals end this year. Those re-mortgaging since July have seen their payments rocket by an average of £220 every month. Next year, 1.5 million families will face a similar fate. The Conservatives’ economic recklessness inflicted a Tory mortgage penalty on families across the country. In Wellingborough, families with a mortgage will be expected to find an additional £190 every single month. In Richmond, north Yorkshire, homeowners face £200 more a month on their mortgage. In the Chancellor’s own constituency—though maybe not for long—families with a mortgage will see an average increase of £420 a month because of this Conservative Government’s economic failure. Given increased costs for landlords—the Chancellor knows something about that—renters are paying a high price, too.

The truth is that working people just do not have that sort of money lying around. This is what we have come to after 13 years of Conservative Government. This is the record upon which people will judge the Conservatives at the next election. Tory economic recklessness is not a thing of the past. The British people are still paying the price. We say, never again. Last week, Labour tabled an amendment to the King’s Speech to put our fiscal lock into law. It would prevent a repeat of last year’s economic horror show, yet the Tories voted against it. It is clear that today, Labour is the party of economic and fiscal responsibility. What have the Conservatives learned? Absolutely nothing.

The country is crying out for change. A decaying Government can change their personnel but they have failed to change the direction of our country. In 13 years, we have had seven Chancellors. He would not run a business like this; he cannot run a country like it, either. The Prime Minister cannot even promise that this Chancellor will be in place at the next election. We have all heard the reports: when they first came together, it was a fairytale marriage, but one year on, the relationship has hit the rocks. The pair have grown apart, with rumours running rife that the Prime Minister already has his eyes on someone else.

Whoever this Prime Minister picks as Chancellor, the truth is that Britain is and will be worse off under the Conservatives. They have held back growth, crashed our economy, increased debt, trashed our public services, left businesses out in the cold and made life harder for working people. Our country cannot afford five more years of the Conservatives. The ravens are leaving the tower when even Saatchi & Saatchi says that the Tories are not working. The questions that people will ask at the next election, and after today’s autumn statement, are simple: do me and my family feel better off after 13 years of Conservative Government? Do our schools, hospitals and police work better after 13 years of Conservative Government? In fact, does anything in Britain work better today than when the Conservatives came into office 13 years ago? We all know that working people are worse off under the Conservatives, with growth down, mortgages up, prices up, taxes up and debt up. Their time is up. It is time for change—a changed Labour party to lead Britain and to make working people better off.