PHILIP HAMMOND has been told to “show us the money” in tomorrow’s Budget after the Prime Minister promised the Tories were to end austerity.
The Chancellor heads in to the annual spending statement on a tightrope but Theresa May has already said that a decade of wage freezes and budget cuts is over.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the Tory administration had to prove they were serious about the pledge, and said reinstating the billions of pounds cut from the welfare budget should be the starting point.
In an interview with The Sunday Post, Mr McDonnell said he wanted to “end the brutality” of the Universal Credit welfare shake-up and pledged to introduce a fairer replacement benefits system if Labour wins back power.
The veteran left winger predicted the weeks leading up to Christmas will be a make or break time for the Prime Minister on Brexit and said what is needed is a “traditional British compromise”.
Mr McDonnell said the impasse on a deal to leave the EU had swung the Budget into full focus.
He explained: “They had planned a low-key budget on the basis that the following weeks would all be about Brexit, but that has gone out of the window.
“Then Theresa May announced the end of austerity to the shock of Philip Hammond, so the pressure is on. The PM said it is the end of austerity, well this budget is their chance to prove it.
“The Chancellor has to do something on Universal Credit, to alleviate the daily brutality felt by thousands.
“They need to halt the roll out and put in immediate measures which would alleviate the suffering which people are experiencing today.
“The delays to payments are just unacceptable. I’m hoping there is no threat to pensioner tax relief as that hits a lot of people who are retiring on middle incomes.
“Also the big issue has got to be more money for social care; if there is no significant movement on this, then we will go into the worse winter crisis the NHS has ever seen.
“This spending obviously has knock-on effects for Scotland and it is desperately needed – but you have to increase both the NHS and social care spending as they are interlinked.”
Tomorrow is a big day for Mr McDonnell’s bid to show that he and Jeremy Corbyn should be handed the keys to Downing Street.
The staunch socialist has spent much of this year building up his own profile and broadening his appeal which he last week credited to a local priest in his West London constituency who said he needed to “soften his image”.
But much of the ‘Marxist makeover’ is to do with bolstering the party’s credibility, particularly among the business community, which has been nervous about many of Labour’s ideas for government; not least the plan to force firms to hand 10% of their equity to employees.
But Mr McDonnell is also carving out space in a largely uninhabited space of British politics right now – the compromise.
On Brexit, the Shadow Chancellor said he wanted a “traditional British compromise” and he is playing up his elder statesman credentials.
In addition, the Shadow Chancellor is also on the
front foot with many aspects of Labour policy such as welfare reform.
The party is conducting a review of the much-criticised bid to roll a string of benefits into one payment but it is clear Mr McDonnell thinks Universal Credit is beyond reform.
He said: “We will bring forward our own new system when we go into government but it needs to be a holistic approach.
“You need a proper living wage to lift people out of poverty and reduce the numbers who rely on the safety net, the number of people in work but in poverty in this country is a disgrace.
“People are on benefits because wages are too low and the safety net doesn’t work properly.
“We agreed with the principal of rolling benefits into one to make it simpler but what the Government has done is made it much more difficult for people to access benefits.
“We want a new system which is based on fair wages and a proper safety net.
“We think we can get a cost effective system, one that is fair and one that ends what is effectively the brutality of Universal Credit.”
A canny move on the part of the Shadow Chancellor is to despatch one of his aides to work with the so-called WASPI women who are campaigning for pensions’ justice.
More than 2.5 million women across the UK were given almost no warning that the state pension age was set to rise to 66.
Many face poverty, hardship and the prospect of continuing working as a result.
The saga is in the first stages of a court challenge but Mr McDonnell pledged a future Labour Government would act on the issue.
He said: “They have been treated appallingly, some have been forced to go back to work when they thought they were retired.
“I think the Government will contest it all the way but I am hoping they get a full hearing.
“Once the case is heard the government is vulnerable because people were quite clear they were not properly notified.” On Brexit, again the Shadow Chancellor was at pains to point out he was trying to take a path of consolidation.
He said: “The country is split down the middle on this and you need to take that into account, we need a traditional British compromise.
“However, if a Prime Minister can’t secure a negotiated deal through the House of Commons she should go back to the people to enable them to choose the team in a General Election.
“There is meant to be this summit in December and I think the couple of weeks before Christmas will decide the future of this government and Brexit negotiations.”
Asked about the circumstances for Labour supporting a People’s Vote on the terms of a Brexit Deal, he said: “There would have to be an absolute refusal or inability to secure a General Election and if that is the case then we have kept that option [The People’s Vote] on the table.”