The government has shown it’s incapable of tackling the crises we face – Apsana Begum MP ahead of the #SpringStatement

“Winter fuel payments could be doubled, the £20 cut to Universal Credit should be reinstated immediately, VAT on household bills could be scrapped, and energy companies could be taken into public ownership to ensure that rather than profits being siphoned off, money is instead spent on reducing bills for consumers.”

By Apsana Begum MP

We are living through a time of crisis with the covid crisis, climate crisis, housing crisis, caring crisis, energy crisis, food crisis, the cost-of-living crisis and so on.

But this cacophony of crises does not ‘come out of the blue’ and at its centre is the crisis of our political and economic systems:

An economy dependent on destructive fossil fuel and reliant on cheapening the cost of labour, casualisation, privatisation, outsourcing, offshoring, and wage cuts.

A politics that disempowers, disenfranchises, and demoralises – with those in power increasingly attacking our fundamental human and trade union rights.

We have long needed change.

There is a reason, for example, that a key component of Labour’s 2019 manifesto was its Green New Deal, driven by public ownership of the energy sector.

The energy bills crisis represents a failure of privatisation over many years – with private energy companies paying out shareholder dividends rather than investing in transitioning to renewables, and with companies continuing to export gas from the UK even while we experience a significant energy shortage.

Clearly, the energy market does not work—it is not able or willing to deliver clean green energy at low prices for households.

Public ownership is our only way out of being held hostage by the corporate stranglehold on our pockets and our planet. People must be put first – ahead of ideological commitments to the market and dogmatic opposition to public ownership.

The pandemic has exposed entrenched inequality and social failures – from the neglect of social care to the chronic underfunding of public services and obsession with outsourcing to structural discrimination and so on.

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) found that the authorities failed to “act on warnings” and that “the pandemic has exposed the UK’s vulnerability to whole-system emergencies.”

Too many have been denied proper financial and practical support.

The Tories’ short-termism and prioritisation of profit over people has led to a litany of catastrophic failures that has not only presided over many thousands of avoidable deaths but one of the largest death tolls in the entire world!

The last two years have given most people a new appreciation for care and how central it is to our lives.

But the truth is that care – both social care and childcare – has been at crisis point for years. Means-testing, underfunding and privatisation has resulted in patchy provision, in which quality is often poor, and whereby gaps are met by increasing numbers of friends and family providing unpaid care. 

We have long needed a new universal social care system which is free at the point of need, but it requires vision, investment, and a willingness to look beyond the limits of the market.

Over the past decade the Tories have scapegoated poverty by pursuing measures to arbitrarily limit welfare spending—like the welfare cap re-affirmed earlier this year.

The Government’s cut of £20 per week from Universal Credit (UC) has already been found by charities to be driving more families into poverty.

That is why it was utterly disgraceful that the Tories have been pushing through a real-terms cut in social security payments. This amounts to knowingly pushing families, children, pensioners, and the most vulnerable in our society into desperate poverty.

In my constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, which suffers from one of the highest rates of child poverty in the entire country, too many are already struggling to heat their homes or put food on the table.

And of course, this is all set against the brutal backdrop of nearly two decades of lost wage growth.

Yet, in the last Budget, the Chancellor cut the taxes that bankers pay on their profits at the same time as raising taxes on working people by increasing National Insurance (NI).

Across the country, there is a real sense of despair and desperation.

We are seeing a growing wave of pay struggles—from bus drivers to airport ground crew to drivers to railway cleaners to warehouse workers and many more.

Perversely the Tories’ answer is not to address the consequences of the policies they have pursued doggedly in the face of great opposition but to seek to further attack our rights – to obscure scrutiny, truth, and justice.

Because it is no coincidence that the Government is seeking to water down our power to challenge the state, attack our right to protest, erode our democratic freedoms and undermine our human and trade union rights.

Meanwhile, their contemptuous “one rule for them, another rule for us” approach rightly continues to obliterate the trust of the public they are meant to be representing.

Our communities struggle to access power – not feeling represented by the pomp and circumstance of the Westminster bubble.

A bold radical comprehensive rescue package is needed.

Winter fuel payments could be doubled, the £20 cut to Universal Credit should be reinstated immediately, VAT on household bills could be scrapped, and energy companies could be taken into public ownership to ensure that rather than profits being siphoned off, money is instead spent on reducing bills for consumers.

A new universal care system which is free at the point of need could improve the quality of care, ensure good pay and conditions for care workers, and stimulate the economy.

Pursuing a green recovery could be key in addressing economic challenges whilst implementing renewable energy to address climate change.

The ideas and solutions are there to be taken up and developed but just as the Tories have driven us to this point, I fear that they have neither the inclination nor the imagination to do what is needed.

And so, it must be up to all of us to step up and play our part. We have to think big, even when we are being told to limit our horizons. We have to speak out, even when we are being silenced.

And rather than “giving-in” to accepting the unacceptable, we must organise, inspire, and empower each other.

Apsana Begum MP speaking in the House of Commons.

Leave a Reply