Philip Hammond gave us a budget for tax avoiders and giant firms | John McDonnell

John McDonnell
Philip Hammond ‘makes the minicab driver pay more and the company he works for less’. Photograph: Rupert Hartley/Rex/Shutterstock

This week’s budget revealed the government’s true priorities. It’s not about supporting workers or small businesses. It’s a government for tax avoiders and giant corporations. Phillip Hammond was boasting about the continuing cuts to taxes for corporations and the super-rich, now totalling £70bn over the next few years, even as he hammered the self-employed with a £2bn national insurance tax hike.

The unfairness of this is very clear. They’re making the minicab driver pay more, but the company they work for pays less. A hairdresser earning £15,000 a year will be £139 worse off as a result of the measures announced. On the day, the government has attempted to disguise the true impact of the change by hiding it behind an earlier revision to national insurance contributions. But anyone earning over £8,000 will be hit by the new changes.

This isn’t progressive. There’s nothing progressive about cutting taxes for the very wealthiest, and for corporations, while hitting the self-employed. Taken together with continuing cuts to public spending, this was a budget that managed to both fall hopelessly short of addressing the real problems in the British economy, while failing to address the crises in our public services.

We should be in no doubt about those problems. Business investment fell last year for the first time since 2009, while unsecured household lending – borrowing on things like credit cards and payday loans – has risen to levels above those seen before the financial crash. This Tory government has combined the worst cuts to public spending since the war, while ballooning the public debt by over £700bn. That’s not just more borrowing than under the last Labour government. It’s more borrowing than every Labour government in history. Hammond’s solution to the failures of austerity over the last seven years is to extend spending cuts until well into the next decade.

As if to drive home the unreality of this government’s approach, the word Brexit did not once cross Hammond’s lips in a speech of almost an hour. To ignore completely the greatest single challenge this country will face over the next few years beggars belief. Of course, he has his own reasons for not wanting to talk about Brexit. It is an open secret that he and the Treasury disagree with the car-crash approach to leaving the EU taken by this government. The prime minister has, ludicrously, claimed that no deal is better than a bad deal. But no deal is the worst possible deal – tearing ourselves out of the biggest single trading block, cutting ourselves off from investment and cutting us off from the skills and talents of EU migrants who make such a contribution here.

Hammond knows that this is the worst of all worlds since the Treasury cannot fail to have heard the warnings from trade unions, business organisations, employers and international organisations that crashing out of the EU without a solid deal will have dire consequences. His silence on the subject was a dereliction of an elementary duty for any chancellor.

The abject failure of the Tories’ seven years in office has been drummed home by one simple fact. Britain is the only major developed country where growth has returned after the financial crisis, but wages are still lower than they were. Indeed, on the projections provided by independent experts at the Resolution Foundation, it will take until 2022 before wages recover to their pre-crash levels. This 15-year slump in living standards is without precedent since 1810. For as long as industrial capitalism in Britain has existed, there has not been a period like this. With inflation set to rise over this year, the erosion of people’s quality of life will continue.

This is a direct consequence of the wretched policies pursued by Conservative chancellors. Instead of investing, they slashed spending, and allowed a labour market to develop in which insecurity and falling real earnings have become the norm. Some have benefited even as the decay has set in. In 2010, chief executive officers earned 150 times average pay. Today, they earn 186 times more than the average worker.

Labour stands for a different approach, with different priorities. We will intervene to defend workers’ rights and living standards, with a £10-per-hour Real Living Wage to make sure work always pays. We’ll make the tax system fair, clamping down on tax avoiders and ending the giveaways to the mega-rich to pay for the NHS and social care. We’ll take on the monopolies in electricity and other utilities to clamp down on price rises. And we’ll deliver the investment needed across the whole country to create the decent, secure jobs that our future prosperity depends upon.