'Beware declaring an age of optimism'
David Winskill, Crouch End campaigner
- Credit: PA
Even as an old-leftie, I’ve had a grudging respect for Rishi Sunak.
In a talent pool as shallow as the one being paddled by Johnson’s cabinet, Sunak is seen as an intellectual colossus.
During Covid, he identified what was needed and made things happen even if he did little to restrain the free-for-all of Test and Trace and the bonanza of PPE sourcing for those with the longest snouts.
Sunak’s Budget was an opportunity to respond to the challenges of Covid recovery, Brexit, the NHS and care system in meltdown, levelling up, skills shortages, fuel rises and, of course, the climate crisis.
He had plenty of ideas and with a better-than-expected fiscal windfall in his back pocket, he resisted the urge to cut tax and instead spend £150bn on public services. Sadly few of those services will get back even to cash values of 2010 when George Osborne put his boot in.
Instead, he had no coherent idea of what he was trying to achieve.
Admittedly, shopkeepers all over the country will be delighted with the business rate deduction and some families claiming universal credit will see a small increase in income. But, but not enough to compensate for the £20 lost and nothing at all for the millions who are unable to work. They will see rising food and fuel prices and an inflation rate of 4.5% by the new year.
Withdrawing large sums of money from poor communities is not compensated by sensitive restorations of Victorian railway stations.
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One of the biggest drivers (along with the work-force shortage) of the NHS crisis is the 20-30% of acute beds now occupied by those who, because of lack of social care support, cannot go home. Like so many other issues, Sunak was silent on this.
He did mention "climate" but only to tell us he has devised a cunning way to incentivise short-haul air travel (something that won’t go down well with COP26 delegates or HS2 zealots).
The increase in minimum wage is largely borne by the private sector and so will contribute to rising prices and reduce UC payments. But, hey-ho, chancellors faced with massive amounts of borrowing, never say no to a dose on inflation to water it down.
I am of course looking forward to the duty reduction on beer – drink four gallons and save a quid!
Sunak claimed that his budget will usher in “an age of optimism.” He might have been wise to consult his classicist chum on the meaning of “hubris”.
David Winskill is a Crouch End writer and campaigner.