This year’s budget was billed as the end of austerity. This was the budget that would announce to the country that the years of struggle have been worth it and a better future was just around the corner. Instead, we were treated to a complete non-event. Growth remains low, Brexit continues to deflate our economy and public services and local authorities remain stretched to breaking point. This was a sticking plaster Budget, aimed at keeping the government ticking over until Brexit hits.
This government seems to have a routine on mental health – talk the talk, don’t walk the walk. Whilst any extra funding is welcome, the money being given by the Chancellor doesn’t come close to what experts are suggesting is needed to meet demand. The services announced have the potential to change lives, but when the funding doesn’t follow more and more people fall through the cracks. This is unacceptable.
For us Liberal Democrats, these plans feel all too familiar. Much of the announcement on mental health was a rehash of the Coalition government’s blueprint for children’s mental health services; Guaranteeing a named mental health lead in schools and dedicated professionals for specialist services have been in the pipeline for years, but the Conservatives have consistently failed to deliver. I won’t be expecting anything to change this time.
I demand better for mental health services in Bristol West. The Tories will continue to pat themselves on the back, but until we have a proper funding formula for mental health, they cannot guarantee that money will get where it is needed. I will continue to work with local charities to ensure that the case for mental health funding is made locally and passionately.
The Chancellor seemed particularly pleased with himself when he announced funding “little extras” for schools. For teachers up and down the country, this is frankly an insult. Primary schools in Bristol West, which are now in the bottom 20% of the country in terms of quality, won’t benefit much from a £10,000 one-off gift. This won’t stop kids being sent home with begging letters from headteachers, or end the staff shortage crisis. The Tories have cut £1.7 billion in school budgets since 2015; much more is needed than a few little extras.
There was more in this budget for potholes than for schools. Whilst potholes do present a daily bother for most people, surely investing in a 21st Century education for our children is a slightly more pressing matter? There was nothing in this budget to plug the gap in our schools’ budgets. Thousands of schools across the country, including in Bristol West, will still see their budgets cut in real terms.
I demand better for schools in Bristol West. Before this budget, I wrote to the Chancellor explaining the need for greater funding for primary schools in our community. This appears to have fallen on deaf ears. I will continue to reach out to headteachers in our area, and to put funding for the most disadvantaged kids in our society first. The Tories think that the problem can be fixed with a few extra pens and stickers – we need real change for our schools.
Brexit, as ever, lingers like a bad smell in this budget. Before the budget announcement, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were at odds at what a no deal Brexit would mean. The Prime Minister thinks it’ll be fine, the Chancellor has warned that an emergency budget may be required to stabilise the economy.
It’s what made this budget feel like a complete non-event. For all the headline grabbing, short-term giveaways, all the funding and investment is contingent on Brexit not damaging the economy. Nobody seriously suggests this is possible. The government added half a million more to its no deal preparations, now a total of £3.5 billion. This will surely go down as one of the largest wastes of public money spent by a government. I can’t help but think about the lives that could be changed if we invested that money in mental health services or schools.
I demand better than Brexit for Bristol West. We cannot be allowed to pursue a policy that we know will make our country poorer. Whilst our Labour MP sits on her hands, I am demanding a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal so we can exit from Brexit.