The chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, delivered what used to be called the Budget, but is now known as the Spring Statement, to parliament on Wednesday (we get the Budget in the autumn instead). It made for depressing listening. The biggest drop in household incomes on record. The biggest tax burden in 70 years. And no comfort for those on the very lowest incomes – pensioners, those who can’t work due to ill-health, disability or caring responsibilities, those whose income was already below the national insurance threshold – who face huge price rises for the basics, food and energy bills, as inflation soars towards 8%.
I really don’t think the chancellor gets the despair and fear these families will be feeling. Even some Conservative MPs expressed alarm at how little the announcement will do for those who are struggling the most.
Also depressing was the latest stage in the progress of the Nationality and Borders bill, on which we had 13 votes on Tuesday afternoon (it should have been 14, but we didn’t shout ‘No’ loudly enough on one of the votes, and so the government was able to slip it through. And even only 13 votes took more than 3 hours to count as we trooped in and out of the voting lobbies; there has to be a better way to do this!).
The bill is a mix of unworkable and in some cases downright nasty provisions, from a nonsense idea that asylum seekers would be sent to an offshore processing centre to make their applications (Australia tried this, it’s ridiculously expensive, and no other country is willing to host a processing centre for us anyway) to criminal penalties for those who arrive here without the right papers – even if they’re fleeing war. I know the government think acting tough on refugees is popular with the public, but the solidarity people have shown to Ukrainians in recent weeks tells me ministers are misreading the public mood. There was one small ray of hope that they might reconsider the ban on asylum-seekers being able to take up work while they wait for their applications to be processed. This has cross-party support, and I hope we will see some concession on this as the bill makes its way back through the House of Lords.
In between the endless voting, I have been able to attend some really interesting events this week. The public accounts committee, of which I’m a member, held a fascinating session on university finances. I attended a very informative (and very depressing) briefing on the teaching of reading in prisons (many prisoners have levels of literacy below that of a young child). And I was very pleased to accompany my colleague Yasmin Qureshi MP to make an application to the backbench business committee for time for a debate on the Srebrenica genocide. As we approach its 27th anniversary, the situation in the Balkans is once more looking very dangerous, with a resurgence in Serbian nationalism. Yasmin I were pleased to have the unanimous support of the committee for our application for a debate.
A big thank you to two schools who hosted me last Friday. The Orchards special school in Urmston is doing amazing work with disabled children, and it was great to meet some of the pupils and see the facilities the school can provide. And it is always a pleasure to meet the politics students at Loreto, who, as usual, raised a very challenging range of issues, from student funding to food security to the situation in Palestine. Thank you for inviting me!
My constituent Joan, who lives in Stretford, will be 100 next month. She has amazing memories of local history and of election campaigns going right back to the 1930s. To mark her birthday, we are making a documentary about her life, which we will be screening publicly in the next few weeks. We’re very grateful to professional photographer and film-maker Simon Buckley, who is donating his time, but we are raising money to help with production and editing costs. We’d be delighted for any support you can give to this once-in-a-lifetime project. Click here for more information and to donate.