Set against the financial headwinds from the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, this year’s Budget needed to choose immediate priorities for national spending. I met with the Chancellor earlier this month to renew my calls that spending is focused on those who are older and the least well off. Many older people on fixed incomes and who do not have the option to work to top up their pensions. So, I welcome the decision to increase both pensions and means-tested benefits to reflect the current cost of living pressures.
Ahead of the budget, I visited Aycliffe primary school where school funding concerns were raised with me by pupils and staff. When we invest in schools and school teaching, we are investing in the potential of our young people and their future. So I am pleased that schools are receiving an increase of more than £2billion.
The NHS and Social Care continues to need more funding. So it was right that the NHS received an extra £8billion. This amount was confirmed by the NHS Chief Executive as ‘sufficient funding for the NHS to fulfil its key priorities’. Locally we have seen investment to deliver diagnostics capabilities in Buckland hospital. It is vital that this huge public funding into health is matched by improvements in the quality of local healthcare services.
With our major roads, port and border programmes, I welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment to maintain capital spending for major projects. This week I met with the team working on the business case for the A2 road upgrade. I also spoke to the Transport Secretary, who visited Kent and Dover to see the road network and our traffic challenges for himself.
Alongside the higher spending commitment came higher taxes, which will include extra council taxes. I have raised my concerns directly with the Chancellor about this, and have raised the issue before in Parliament. Kent County Council was awarded one of the highest settlements for social care in the country, at more than £5million. Together with the local health board allocation, getting on for £10million more has been allocated to Kent and Medway for social care services. Our area has a significant number of older people. We need to value and cherish all our older people and make sure that services are better planned and delivered to support older age.
I want to see support given to those who need it most. This is a budget that has prioritised needs and public services at another time of extraordinary events. However, this is paid for by a huge cost to businesses and workers, who carry an increasingly heavy burden. As we move forward, reducing taxes, allowing businesses to thrive, and people to keep more of their own money, must take centre stage once again.