Jeremy Corbyn has labelled Rishi Sunak’s fiscally extravagant budget “an admission of failure”, saying the UK was in a far worse position to cope with the economic hit of coronavirus because of a decade of austerity.
While saying the new chancellor’s plans to assist individuals and companies with the outbreak of the virus was “obviously welcome”, Corbyn told the Commons more detail was needed on areas such as sick pay for contract workers, and help for those on universal credit.
The Labour leader also condemned Sunak’s wider opening of the spending taps as both too little to make up for 10 years of budget cuts and an acknowledgement from the Conservatives that austerity had been a failure.
“Today’s budget was billed as a turning point, a chance to deliver, in particular on the promises made to working-class communities during the general election. But it doesn’t come close,” Corbyn told a sombre Commons, where earlier Conservative MPs had loudly cheered Sunak’s plans.
The boast that the spending plans were the biggest on record was “a sleight of hand”, Corbyn said, adding that the government’s mantra of seeking to level up the UK was “a cruel joke”.
He said: “The reality is that this is a budget that is an admission of failure – an admission that austerity has been a failed experiment. It didn’t solve our economic problems but made them worse.”
On coronavirus, Corbyn said it was vital for politicians to “work together, all of us, to meet this head on and overcome it”.
But he added: “We have to be straight with people: it’s going to be much tougher because of the last 10 years of deeply damaging and counter-productive cuts to all of our essential public services.
“We’re going into this crisis with our public services on their knees. And as today’s figures confirm, with a fundamentally weak economy, which is now flatlining, with zero growth even before the impact of coronavirus.”
On Sunak’s announcements of changes to statutory sick pay (SSP) , Corbyn asked for clarity about whether this covered people on zero-hours contracts, and whether SSP would be available for all workers “from day one”, including care workers.
He also called for an increase to the “scandalously low” level of SSP, currently set at £94.25 a week, and a change to the five-week wait for claimants to receive universal credit.
The government’s announcement of extra money for the NHS was “too little, too late”, Corbyn said, warning that the health service did not have enough intensive care beds or ventilators to deal with coronavirus.
Sunak, the Labour leader said, “shows some brass neck when he boasts that measures to deal with coronavirus are only possible because of his party’s management of the economy”, noting a current growth rate of 0%.
On other areas, Corbyn condemned the plan to freeze fuel duty again, with no help for other forms of transport. He said: “Young people especially will be dismayed at the lack of urgency to reduce our emissions.”
He ended by calling the budget one that would “come to be seen as a lost opportunity, a failure of ambition and a bitter disappointment to all those people who have been promised so much, but from what we’ve heard today are actually going to see so little”.