Last Monday the Chancellor delivered a budget a few days earlier than the planned date of October 31st. The reason for his speech being moved was to avoid the obvious PR disaster of delivering a budget of cuts on the scariest day of the year.
Phillip Hammond may have avoided Halloween, but he delivered a package dressed up as something it was not. He told us austerity was over, that the cuts would come to an end and the British people could be optimistic about the future of public services.
Like so many budget statements before, the bluster did not match reality.
While the Chancellor announced increased cash flow to Scotland, Holyrood’s block grant has been cut by almost £2 billion since 2010, and while he delivered tax cuts for the well-off, he delivered cuts for everyone else.
The Tories had the opportunity to end austerity, halt the roll-out of Universal Credit, and give the WASPI women the justice they deserved – but instead they delivered a budget of cuts and broken promises.
In the run-up to his statement, I wrote to Phillip Hammond asking him – on the centenary of the first women getting the vote – to pay the WASPI women what they are due.
Almost 7,000 women in my constituency paid their National Insurance contributions in the expectation that they would receive the state pension at a certain age, only for the goalposts to have been moved by the UK Government without notification.
As a result, the number of women in Lanark and Hamilton East aged over 60 claiming Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance has increased more than any other age group. For Employment Support Allowance, the claimant count increased by a staggering 390 per cent, and for Universal Credit it has shot-up by 30%.
The House of Commons Library stated the reason for those dramatic increases is likely to be down pension aged changes. Women that were expecting to receive their state pensions are now being forced onto benefits as a result.
I should be clear that I support the equalisation of pension age, but the way in which the UK government have conducted themselves has been disgraceful and for the Chancellor to ignore the glaring injustice faced by these women is an utter betrayal.
He may think the issue will blow over and the campaign will stop, but he has not met the WASPI women – the fiercest, most determined and organised group of grassroots campaigners I have ever met. I will campaign alongside them until justice has been served.
Another issue that dominated the budget debate was the botched roll-out of Universal Credit. Prior to the Chancellor’s statement he promised a cash injection to resolve the structural errors in the system.
However, like so many of his announcements, it was shallow. Scratch beneath the surface and the rhetoric falls apart.
His paltry funding “boost” for Universal Credit does nothing for people currently struggling and goes nowhere near reversing years, and billions of pounds, worth of social security cuts.
Instead of halting the roll-out, fixing the problems and giving the system the cash it required, he simply reversed half the cuts introduced by George Osborne in 2015. Worst still, the vile rape-clause and nonsensical two-child policy are still engrained into the system.
It should go without saying that no-one should have to prove they have been the victim of rape to receive tax credits. Universal Credit will continue to be a disgrace as long as the rape-clause exists.
This was a budget set in the face of collapsing Brexit negotiations, but the Prime Minister offered some light when she declared that austerity was over. However, moments after the budget announcement was concluded, the spin fell apart.
Scotland shouldn’t have to pick up the cost of the continued chaos at the heart of the UK government. This budget has presented Scotland with the choice of two futures: one in a union of chaos and hardship; or a future of opportunity in a prosperous, fairer Scotland in the European Union.