The Budget and the North | Sarah Stook
With Philip Hammond’s last pre-Brexit budget announced on the 29th October, there had been a wide and varied reaction to the policies. Seen as a sweetener budget with money being thrown at every conceivable issue, some even called it a pre-election budget. From the NHS to infrastructure, every angle has been covered.
So what about the north?
For many, many years, the North of England has been considered Mordor by many in Westminster. All Conservative Prime Ministers since 1979 have represented southern constituencies, Blair and Brown both bucking that trend with Durham and Scotland respectively. Currently, many of the top brass in both parties represent areas in the south of the country. For the Conservatives, it is as follows:
- Theresa May- Maidenhead, Berkshire
- Sajid Javid- Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
- Philip Hammond- Runnymede and Weybridge, Surrey
- Boris Johnson- Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Greater London
- Jeremy Hunt- South West Surrey, Surrey
- Jeremy Corbyn- Islington North, Greater London
- John McDonnell- Hayes and Harlington, Greater London
- Diane Abbott- Hackney North and South Newington, Greater London
- Emily Thornberry- Islington South and Finsbury, Greater London
- Keir Starmer- Holborn and St Pancras, Greater London
Taking this into account, we can see the direction of the budget. In some regards, it is a budget that can certainly benefit the north but it is not one that we can properly look forward to. Many of the policies affect the entirety of the country so it may not particularly be hard to analyse it from a northern perspective. Therefore, we will be looking at ones that may affect the north, whether positively or negatively.
- Mental Health
Part of the health budget included a £2bn a year extra for mental health services, a mental health department in every A&E, more mental health ambulances and a 24 hour mental health helpline. The North, particularly known for its lack of resources and the number of depraved areas is much higher than the south, has a huge mental health problem. Examples of such statistics are:
- 200,000 mental cases referred to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) in the 10% most deprived areas as compared to 92,000 in the 10% least deprived areas.
- Only 35% of patients from the 10% most deprived recovered, compared to a 46% average and 55% in the least deprived areas.
- Higher rate of anti-anxiety medication prescriptions given in areas with higher social deprivation
- ¼ of people in low income areas are at risk of mental health issues
This is something that is a hugely effective due to the mental health crisis the country faces and will benefit many in the north. Still, it is not a measure that affects root causes such as unemployment, alcoholism and bereavement. More research needs to be done as to why poorer areas experience higher mental health issues, as well as recruiting more staff and decreasing tragically long waiting times.
Hammond has promised a £37m fund for a Northern Powerhouse Rail to connect northern cities, £14m for jobs in Redcar, money for cities such as Sheffield in Manchester and £100K for an Eden Project in Morecombe.
Unfortunately, that is clearly not enough.
There is a massive discrepancy in spending between the two halves of England and a few million will not do enough. Firstly, there is a huge focus on cities, from funding for them to the focus on railways between them. Whilst cities are an economic boost and hold many people in its population, they are not the only areas in the north. Many places like Grimsby, heavily deprived, will not benefit from the funding offered. Places need help to increase employment, improve retail areas and internal transportation (such as buses) amongst others, but are ignored. Studies have shown that seaside towns are some of the most deprived and have some of the worst educational standards, but they are again ignored.
HS2 is still running, a giant project which is haemorrhaging money and has no benefits to many. Instead, they could use the money they spent on that for infrastructure projects in the north, like WiFi on trains, more routes and trains that actually come on time. On top of this, the homes partnership announced will build houses in East London, ignoring the fact more houses are built in London than in the entire Northern Powerhouse cities combined.
In terms of the tax threshold being increased to £12,500, that is a definite bonus for many in the north due to the lower wages found. Several of the economic reforms, such as the boost for small businesses and £650m high street rejuvenation fund are also beneficial, however, it is not said which region will benefit the most and it is likely that the south is more likely to receive help. Generally, the budget will change things in the north but key elements of it have been ignored in favour of grander projects that forget the little people. With no specifics, it is up to us assume that the north will benefit from money for schools and NHS spending but we again should not expect much. Overall, this is not a budget for the north or a northern budget.