Autumn Statement: Hertford and Stortford opposition parties condemn Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement has been panned by Hertford and Stortford’s opposition parties.
Labour said the Government was “out of touch, out of ideas and out of time”, the Liberal Democrats rapped the Tories for allowing the NHS to crumble and the Green Party condemned “pre-election bribes” that failed to address the cost-of-living and climate change crises.
Mr Hunt announced last Wednesday (November 22) a cut in National Insurance (NI) rates. For employees earning between £12,570 and £50,268, the 12% taken from earnings will fall to 10% from January 6. However, the benefit for many workers may be offset by a freeze in NI and income tax thresholds until 2028.
The National Living Wage for over-23s will rise from £10.42 an hour to £11.44 an hour and workers aged 21 and 22 will be eligible for it for the first time. The National Minimum Wage for 18- to 20-year-olds will rise from £7.49 to £8.60 an hour and the apprentice rate will go up from £5.28 to £6.40.
There will be a 6.7% rise in benefits and the triple-lock for pensions will be maintained with an 8.5% increase.
Nevertheless, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), living standards are forecast to be 3.5% lower in 2024-25 than before the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the past two years, food costs have risen 30% and, from a high of 11% last year, inflation is not predicted to hit the Government’s 2% target until 2025.
Overall, the OBR says rising prices have resulted in the largest reduction in real living standards since official records began in the 1950s.
Josh Dean, Hertford and Stortford Constituency Labour Party’s parliamentary spokesman, said: “The question our residents will be asking themselves ahead of the next General Election is this: ‘Are my family and I better off than when the Conservatives came into government 13 years ago?’ When I speak to people in our community, it’s hard to find anyone that says ‘yes’.
“This Autumn Statement not only fails to address that, but it shows a Government detached from the reality faced by people in Hertford and Stortford.
“Our residents are seeing their mortgages rise and prices in the shops going up, and public services on their knees. Working people and businesses in our community are facing the highest tax burden since the Second World War, but the wealthiest are still able to take advantage of tax loopholes.
“The reality is that the Conservatives can’t solve the problems in our economy because they are part of the problem – Hertford and Stortford’s own Tory MP [Julie Marson] has voted for 25 tax rises since 2019.
“A Labour Government will tackle the cost-of-living crisis, prioritising plans to boost wages, bring down bills and make working people better off. A Labour MP in Hertford and Stortford will stand up for our residents amid this crisis and act as a champion for the businesses who keep our local economy moving. This Autumn Statement showed a Government out of touch, out of ideas and out of time – it’s time for a General Election and real change with Labour.”
The Lib Dems said the Chancellor should have invested in a robust NHS rescue plan as ever-growing treatment backlogs have stalled the economy, damaging growth and quality of life. A poll commissioned by the party showed one in seven people had taken a significant length of time off work whilst waiting for treatment on the NHS.
Instead, the party said, Mr Hunt proposed tax changes that will not “touch the sides” after years of unfair tax hikes that Mrs Marson has consistently voted in favour of.
Helen Campbell, the Lib Dem candidate who will face her at the next General Election, said: “This Conservative Government seems completely content to sit back and allow Hertford and Stortford’s health services to crumble. They are either so out of touch they cannot see how many people are struggling to access healthcare or they simply do not care.
“The Autumn Statement was an opportunity to get people off NHS waiting lists and allow them to return to work so we can rescue our flat-lining economy. Instead we got empty promises, stale nonsense and a tax cut that’s not even a drop in the ocean compared to what people have already paid.”
Cllr Nick Cox, the Green Party’s candidate to be the next Hertford and Stortford MP, said: “This Autumn Statement is particularly mean. The Chancellor is trying to bribe people with some minor tax cuts while leaving our public services woefully underfunded.
“This budget means the NHS will continue to struggle, the long-term sick and disabled will be worse off and, with energy prices still inflated by profiteering from the Ukrainian crisis, any benefits gained from this will be soon swallowed up.
“The Green Party would overhaul the tax system to raise more funds to fight both the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis. At the moment the super-rich are being taxed less than working people because capital gains tax is taxed at a lower rate than income tax.”
Cllr Cox, a member of East Herts Council, said: “We’d rebalance that and use the money to revitalise the NHS, invest in preventative public health services, support those in greatest need and boost the transition to a greener economy.
“We’re not going to be fooled by this shambolic Government any longer. We’re long overdue a change and the General Election can’t come soon enough. Let’s vote them out and bring in MPs who will provide good public services and protect us from the harm caused by both the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis – MPs who believe fairness is worth fighting for.”
Julie Marson has not responded to an Indie request to comment on the Autumn Statement and what it means for her constituents.