George Osborne’s spot of political theatre on Wednesday saw him pull a rabbit out of a hat with his commitment to the national living wage.
The reality is in fact a devalued, rebranded minimum wage. The actual living wage is £7.85, it hasn’t been £7.20 since 2011.
But as Labour found in government, what makes a good headline doesn’t always mean good policy. The British public aren’t stupid and can’t be taken for fools – they know when they’re worse off.
People in Batley and Spen know that getting £5 in your front pocket while having £10 taken from your back pocket isn’t a good deal.
Whether you’re a public sector worker, or earning up to £40,000, under 25 or a student – you’ll be worse off.
A couple with two children, both working and earning £9.35 an hour, will be £850 a year worse off. And a typical single parent gains £400 from the Chancellor’s announcement on wages but loses £860 in tax credit. That’s not a living wage – it’s a work penalty.
There was little or nothing to address some of the issues I have taken up with ministers in the Commons in recent weeks – productivity, the skills gap, transport and efforts to improve the vibrancy of the northern economy.
Even after pulling the plug on their northern powerhouse and shelving electrification of the Transpennine rail route, the Government claimed £13bn of investment in rail in the north.
More trains, newer trains and more regular journeys, they said.
According to national reports there is actually only £3bn for rail schemes, of which £1.35bn has already been allocated, mainly to Manchester.
There is £5bn for major road schemes, including the improvements to the A1. And this figure also includes £5bn of funding that has already been allocated to councils for a variety of projects.
That leaves just £1.65bn for rail, or £330m a year until 2020, for ALL of the north-east, Yorkshire and the north-west!
I have spent a lot of time visiting local businesses, manufacturing companies, service providers, shops and market traders, talking about the economy. I know what the government does not – that it needs to divert its attention away from the City of London and the south east.
It may not matter to the government but it matters to Batley & Spen and to Yorkshire.
That’s why I put my name forward to sit on the select committee that scrutinises the work of the Department for Communities and Local Government. I want to keep a very close eye on what the government is doing and saying on this. Or not doing and not saying.
The budget did little to tackle structural weaknesses in the economy so that our country looks set to remain deeply divided and unbalanced for years to come.
In spite of all the Chancellor’s hype, we had a triple whammy of bad economic news this week.
Growth and productivity were both revised down and the UK deficit stands at £69.5 billion – in the year when the Chancellor promised to eliminate it.
A strong economy is vital but this budget showed an attempt at sleight of hand, a distraction from the real story, but also a warped sense of political priorities where hard-working nurses, carers and teachers get real term pay cuts while millionaires get a tax cut.