WORKING PEOPLE DESERVE—THE TORIES HAVE LET BIRMINGHAM DOWN
In his contribution, the Foreign Secretary undertook a global perambulation, bumbling for Britain. May I bring the debate back to Birmingham, a city of 1.5 million people—I am proud to represent Erdington—the city of Chamberlain, and an ambitious, growing, young city that is determined to build on its strengths?
There are some welcome steps in the Budget. We have worked cross-party to secure the midlands engine initiative and local growth deals, but those steps are modest in the extreme. There is £392 million for the entirety of the west and east midlands, and £54 million for job creation in Birmingham and Solihull. That pales into insignificance given the £700 million of cuts already made to Birmingham City Council and the fact that London, in the autumn statement, got nearly 10 times more than the entirety of the west and east midlands, and that was for housing alone. Once again, Birmingham loses out to London.
Time and again, there is a grotesque contrast between how Birmingham is treated and how the leafy Tory shires are treated. The Surrey sweetheart deal on social care is now legendary. On other fronts, the Government talk about social mobility, yet for our nursery schools in Birmingham, which are absolutely vital to giving kids the best possible start in life, final baseline funding is set to drop by 5%, the maximum allowable and the biggest in the country. However, in the Prime Minister’s constituency, in Windsor and Maidenhead, funding per hour goes up. Every school in Erdington bar one is losing out on the funding formula.
On safety and security in the west midlands, crime is rising—little wonder; there has been a cut of 2,000 police officers. Crime is rising by 9%. Violent crime is up by 20%. Yet the west midlands has been hit five times harder than Surrey in terms of police funding since 2010. It goes on.
Time and again, what we hear from the Government is talk of all this being about fair funding. Fair funding? It is shameful doublespeak because it pays no regard to need. One in three children in Birmingham are in poverty. Infant mortality rates in Birmingham are twice the national average. Birmingham is ranked first for the total number of fuel poor households. There is the extraordinary statistic that, if a man gets on the train at New Street and gets off at Erdington or Gravelly Hill, he is likely to live seven years less than if he continues on that train to Four Oaks in leafy Sutton Coldfield.
It is true that Birmingham is a great city, but it is a city of high need. I always say about my constituency of Erdington that it is rich in talent but it is one of the poorest in Britain. It has the seventh highest level of unemployment. Despite all that, the city and my constituency have been failed by a Government, and a Tory leadership in Birmingham and the west midlands, who have lamentably let Birmingham down. To add insult to injury, they then blame the city for the problems created by the combination of the mess inherited by a Labour council from a previous Tory administration on the one hand and what the Government have done to the city of Birmingham on the other. It is little wonder that in Birmingham people are not impressed by the Budget.
On other fronts, the Government failed to listen to appeals for justice, but nevertheless imposed additional burdens on working people in Birmingham. They failed to listen to the appeal for justice. There were 100 WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—women down last week, who were utterly dismayed that there was not one penny in the Budget to put right that terrible wrong. For example, there is a woman in my constituency who is 62 and cannot now retire until she is 66. Her husband died two years ago, and her father died a week later. She has never done a cleaning job in her life—not that there is anything wrong with cleaning jobs—but is now having to do three part-time cleaning jobs to make ends meet. She had hoped that her appeal for justice would be listened to by the Government, but there was not one penny in the Budget for her.
There are also the additional burdens imposed on working people. If there are 37,000 WASPI women who feel let down, there are over 60,000 of the self-employed who feel that they have been hit hard by a Government who are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Little wonder that a Kingstanding white van man on Saturday told me how bitter he was that he is being treated in the way that he is, with no additional rights but having to pay more national insurance. What he said is true of so many in the city who feel let down by this Government: “I’ll never believe any promise from the Conservative party again.” He will not be alone.