I welcome this Budget.
It has five core purposes: to balance the books, help people through covid, to cut the cost of living, to champion education, skills and apprenticeships and to build back better.
The fundamentals of levelling up must be about cutting the cost of living. Too many of my Harlow residents are working long hours for low pay.
That is why the fuel duty freeze for the tenth year is such good news. The national living wage rise to £8.91 in April will mean that households are £5,200 better off compared to 2010 and cuts in taxes have put £1,205 more in the average worker’s pocket. The six month extension to the uplift in Universal Credit will incentivise work and reduce the welfare poverty trap.
Covid-19 has been a national disaster for education. The Government’s £1.7 billion catch-up fund is a huge step forward.
Just as the NHS has a ten-year plan, there should be a long term plan for educational recovery: investing in early years, establishing family hubs in every town, reforming the pupil premium to give more help to the long-term disadvantaged, longer school days with civil society helping with extra sports, mental health and academic catch-up.
I hope the Treasury will hypothecate £150 million raised from the sugar tax to finance school breakfasts in disadvantaged areas. Evidence shows this increases educational attainment by 2 months.
The £2 billion Kickstart programme for businesses and the lifetime skills guarantee will rocket boost apprenticeships and jobs. I would urge Apprenticeship Levy reform to benefit companies that invest in skills our country needs and to ensure those from disadvantaged backgrounds climb on the Apprenticeship ladder of opportunity.
Of course, Levelling-Up means renewing infrastructure. The new hospital planned for Harlow is hugely welcomed by residents, as is our new £81 million junction 7a and planned regeneration funding of up to £76 million. The expected move of Public Health England to Harlow will provide thousands of jobs, boost skills, health science and economic opportunities across the East of England. The Health Department already spent over £270 million for the relocation. This investment shows the Government’s commitment to Harlow.
Build back better must also mean genuinely affordable housing. One million children live in overcrowded accommodation. The £12.2 billion announced by the Communities Secretary is welcome. The Government could incentivise housing associations by a flexible grant rate and making more land available for social housing.
Of course, Conservatives are for home ownership. The mortgage guarantee is superb. But, we should also be the party of quality, affordable housing.
I commend the Budget. I urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to ensure that supporting workers, championing social justice and the ladder of opportunity continue to be at the heart of Government decision-making.