Unable to find ways of getting the global corporations like Google, Apple and Facebook to pay taxes in the UK, chancellor Philip Hammond’s stop-gap budget instead turns the screw on ‘ordinary working people’ and small businesses.
Hours before the budget announcement came news that inflation is rising to 2.4% and real incomes falling with consumer spending dropping to its lowest level for five years, undermining the assumptions based on growth increasing to 2% in 2017.
Living standards are set to fall year-on-year and this is before the impact of a Tory-led Brexit is fully felt.
Using a fake argument of increased fairness, the millions who’ve been driven out of ‘proper jobs’ and into lower income vulnerable forms of self-employment are now to be further hit by increased national insurance payments.
Directors of small businesses, and shareholders – usually retirees protecting their savings in a period when interest rates are lower than inflation – are to face cuts in their tax-free dividend allowances.
Ignoring the £20 billion gap in NHS funding that is at the root of its perilous lack of capacity, £100 million is to be made available for GP triage in A&E, which, according to the BMA could further deepen the crisis. With this tiny amount, overstretched GPs will be expected to leave their practices and act as on-site gatekeepers in dangerously busy casualty departments, deciding who does and who doesn’t get treated.
Anyone who has seen I, Daniel Blake, or worse, been forced to experience the assessments for benefit entitlement by ‘health care practitioners’ it depicts, will be shuddering at the thought. Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA, said: “Having GPs in A&E won’t reduce admissions – if anything this could have the effect of attracting more patients to hospitals.”
The day after the announcement, health secretary Jeremy Hunt piled the pressure on hospitals, demanding they returned to meeting the long abandoned four-hour target for seeing patients in A&E. But, of the £2bn over three years for social care that Hammond says will reduce the pressure on hospital beds , at best it will be sucked up to meet new obligations on the national living wage. And at worst, some of it will disappear into higher salaries and dividends for chief executives and owners of the private companies running services, according to Bob Hudson, professor in the Centre for Public Policy and Health at Durham University.
The economy is in a dark and lengthening tunnel, and there’s no light at the end. Hammond’s budget pushed the date for balancing the books further into the future. Despite years of austerity aimed at reducing public debt, the budget deficit is set to increase by £6.5bn.
Austerity is set to continue for the indefinite future so long as the Tories remain in power and Labour fails to come up with an alternative to a political and economic system – aka capitalism – mired in systemic crisis.
If there was ever a case for real democracy, this is it.