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The Spring Budget

Column in The Courier - 08/03/2024

This week Westminster has been dominated by the announcement of the budget on Wednesday. Although we were all hoping for some positive news, the Chancellor held firm to his real term cuts to the public sector and failed to address many urgent concerns. There is no question that more funding for public services is urgently needed. Without it, the CMS, DWP and HMRC cannot function properly, something I often hear from my constituents. I have been raising the issues for months: the Government must have systems that work when handling people’s money.


In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced reforms to Work Capability Assessments which would force many disabled people to search for work or even work when it might be entirely unsuitable. I find this both deeply condescending – the idea that disabled people need the Government to step in to make them work, rather than wanting to lead fulfilling lives of their own – and completely pointless if we want to end poverty and allow people to live with dignity. The OBR estimates that 361,000 people will lose benefits as a result of the change, whilst only 10,000 more will be in employment. Without even announcing spending on Access to Work, I worry that those changes will cause more harm than good.


Another crucial group of people who were largely missed out from the budget were carers. Carer’s Allowance urgently needs reform to allow people providing unpaid care to their loved ones to keep working. Lib Dems want to see the amount you can earn before losing your allowance increased and pegged to 12 hours at the National Living Wage. I have pledged to fight for unpaid carers whenever I can and am deeply disappointed that the Government has not backed them in this budget.


Here in Scotland, the Government announced their budget recently and the outcome was as equally bleak. In particular, the SNP have cut £30m from mental health services despite increased treatment waiting times for young people and less people starting treatment. The Scottish Lib Dems have been pressing the government for years about the importance of having mental health practitioners in surgeries to cut waiting lists and improve access to mental health support.


Furthermore, the SNP and Greens have set out plans to cut a third of the housing budget despite numbers of homelessness being at a record high with almost 31,000 homelessness applications currently open according to the most recent figures. Homeless people deserve respect, not to be further ostracised which is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for a number of steps to be taken. This includes calling on the Scottish Government to take forward the Housing First and Rapid Rehousing principles to end rough sleeping by providing houses and any other support individuals may need.


There was some good news in the budget though, I was delighted that following my recent Bill calling for reforms to Child Benefit, the Chancellor announced just that. A reminder to me of the importance of being a back bench MP, and that we can affect real change which helps people. It is something I will certainly hold on to when fighting for those services, and those people who have otherwise been left behind by this budget.


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