Liverpool for Europe Budget Commentary

Liverpool for Europe Budget Commentary

Sunak Careering Towards Disaster

After a decade of austerity, defunding of public services and the NHS, and punitive, ideologically-driven war on social care, the Tory budget splurge might be greeted with the euphoria of Victorian street children being offered a stick of Blackpool Rock by the well-to-do. Enjoy the sugar rush everyone. It won’t last for long. We still need a new pair of shoes and a decent meal.

The truth of the matter is that the UK enters the COVID-19 crisis with the NHS on its knees, with 100,000 vacancies including 30,000 nurses. The number of GPs (on FTE basis) has actually fallen 5.1% over the past year (Pulse, 27.02.20) Our care system is held together by ageing care workers on subsistence wages. The spending splurge on COVID-19 will massively increase UK debt and use up reserves it had set aside to deal with the economic hit of a hard Brexit, which awaits us just around the corner like another a spectre.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out that spending had still not returned to the levels of 2010, and Office of Budget Responsibility has made clear that even the weak growth forecasts upon which the spending plans depend, assume a smooth transition to the new free trade agreement with the EU. The reality is that the Johnson government aren’t even admitting in public to what was agreed in December.

Even worse for the long term, the UK withdrawal from the EU makes us dangerously self isolated. We sent the European Medicines Agency packing in 2018, meaning UK will be at the back of the queue on new drugs registrations. And, the Tory Brexit extremists have announced the withdrawal from the European Centre for Disease Control for no particularly good reason.

By ending reciprocal freedom of movement amongst our neighbours, we have put up walls between ourselves and the largest skills and talent market on the world.

  • Debt financing can’t build houses without skilled bricklayers.
  • Additional medical technologies can’t be used without skilled medical staff to use them. Our elderly can’t be bathed and cared for by cash.
  • Only the skilled carers with the right mindset.
  • R&D labs look nice but aren’t much use without top research and development talent.

With an ageing population and after 10 years in which investment in adult education and training has been halved (a fall of 47% since 2010), the UK is dangerously short of the skills and talent it needs to design and build railways, build houses, research vaccines and care for patients and the elderly. No amount of splurging will offset the self harm and isolation that Brexit will cause.

The sharp increase in fees to use the NHS, to £624 per annum per person, will harm EU27 families and all migrants. But more than that, they signal the UK discriminating against foreign-born people and baking in xenophobia. It represents a tax on talent, disincentivizing the UK from attracting the people with skills.

As with so many things Brexit, the budget is undeliverable, self isolating and ultimately self defeating.

We know all too well how buzz phrases in Westminster create a torrent of hot air in the North. “Getting it done” becomes “give over”. Northern Powerhouse is little more than an ironic joke in these parts. Liverpool for Europe will continue to communicate the obvious and tangible benefits of European Union membership. Rejoining remains an option whenever the UK political circumstances allow it. Ideology will in time give way to reality.

After all, if Tory fiscal hawks can come to see the necessity of public investment in public services and infrastructure, they can also come to see the proven benefits of working together in our common European home.

Stranger things have happened.