Sir Keir Starmer accuses Rishi Sunak's Budget of 'papering over the cracks'

3 March 2021, 15:07 | Updated: 3 March 2021, 15:32

Sir Keir Starmer delivers his response to Rishi Sunak's Budget
Sir Keir Starmer delivers his response to Rishi Sunak's Budget. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Sir Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of papering over the cracks as he issued a scathing response to the Chancellor’s Budget.

The Labour leader said Mr Sunak's mask would soon be removed to reveal a Chancellor "itching" to pull away support from hard-pressed Britons.

He said his party would have put the NHS and care homes “front and centre”, criticised the Government’s plan on Universal Credit and mortgages, and said there was no “credible plan” to rescue businesses which have been plunged into debt by the pandemic.

Speaking after Mr Sunak unveiled his Budget in the House of Commons, Sir Keir told MPs: "After 11 months in this job, it's nice finally to be standing opposite the person actually making decisions in this Government.

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"The trouble is it's those decisions that have left us with the mess we find today - the worst economic crisis of any major economy in the last 12 months, unemployment at 5% and, as the Chancellor said, forecast to rise to 6.5%, with debt of over £2 trillion.”

Sir Keir quipped: “I'm sure this Budget will look better on Instagram”, before adding: "We needed a Budget to fix the foundations of our economy, to reward our key workers, to protect the NHS and to build a more secure and prosperous economy for the future.

"Instead, what we got was a Budget that papered over the cracks rather than rebuilding the foundations."

Sir Keir told MPs businesses had been plunged into debt estimated at £70 billion, adding Mr Sunak had “no credible plan to ease the burden of debt".

On Universal Credit, he accused the Chancellor of “deferring the problem”, saying: "If this had been a Budget to rebuild the foundations it would have fixed our broken social security system.

"Instead, the Chancellor has been dragged kicking and screaming to extend the £20 uplift in Universal Credit - but only for a few months.”

On housing, the Labour leader said: "If the Government was serious about fixing the broken housing market, it would have announced plans for a new generation of genuinely affordable council houses.

"Instead, 230,000 council homes have been lost since 2010. Yet the Chancellor focused today on returning to subsidising 95% of mortgages."

"So much for generation buy,” Sir Keir added.

Concluding his speech, he told the Commons: "Behind the spin, the videos and the photo-ops, we all know the Chancellor doesn't believe in an active and enterprising government.

"We know he's itching to get back to his free-market principles and to pull away support as quickly as he can. One day these restrictions will end, one day we'll all be able to take our masks off and so will the Chancellor, and then you'll see who he really is.

"And this Budget sets it up perfectly because this is a Budget that didn't even attempt to rebuild the foundations of our economy or to secure the country's long-term prosperity.

"Instead, it did the job the Chancellor always intended, a quick-fix, papering over the cracks. The party opposite spent a decade weakening the foundations of our economy, now they pretend they can rebuild it.

"But the truth is, they won't confront what went wrong in the past and they have no plan for the future."