Sunak's Budget: Smoke and Mirrors?

Rishi Sunak's 2021 Budget and its claims are explored.

Thomas Dickson
9th November 2021
Image Credits: "Budget Day 2021" by Number 10 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Image shows Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street)
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced his budget last week on the 27th of October. The budget purportedly sees a rise in spending and the end of austerity, but do these claims hold up?

Since the eyes of the world are firmly placed in Glasgow for COP26 this week, there is no better place to start than by considering the environmental impact of the budget. With the failure to even mention the word ‘climate’ in his budget speech, it seems the budget does not directly tackle the issue of climate change.

Yes, more money has been pledged to help achieve the goal of net zero, such as spending £1.7bn on constructing Sizewell C nuclear station in Suffolk, north of the Sizewell B plant. Such a plan was backed to ensure a more steady energy supply but the proposal has already sparked protests against its construction. Such a proposal seems at odds with the lowering of tax on domestic flights. It will now be cheaper to fly within the UK. The environmental impact of such flights can only be negative, and hinder our ability to reach our goal of net zero. Such an observation was made by MP Caroline Lucas, of the Green Party, who stated the budget "took us backwards" in terms of reaching zero. How are we meant to be taken seriously on climate change when this is what we are doing?

The two biggest claims of this budget, in my opinion, are that government spending will rise and austerity is being brought to an end. The inclusion of policies such as raising the minimum wage, and cutting the Universal Credit taper rate to £0.55 (which will allow claimants keep more of the payment if they find work- how generous of them!). Both policies would be alien in an Osborne-era budget and they suggest austerity is in the process of being ended, which I would agree with to an extent. Ending isn’t reversing, however, and reversing they are not. This is seen in their second claim that government departmental spending is increasing. An increase in government departmental spending is certainly beneficial (depending how it is spent of course); said increase in spending, when compared with 2010 levels, only involves three departments exceeding 2010 levels. Education is only just back to 2010 levels with the proposed increase. Considering it has taken a decade to return to previous levels of student funding, the current generation of students aren't likely to forget such a fact. Austerity may be ending, but it definitely has not been reversed. 10 departments will still have their funding at lower than 2010 levels in 2024-25. 15 years of cuts. To me, the government have let this country down and this budget is no more than smoke and mirrors.

The final kick in the teeth from this budget is that national insurance is being increased to fund health and social care coming out of the pandemic. Increasing national insurance is an insulting policy to me considering the NHS would have been well funded and better prepared for pandemics without austerity; such an increase is unfair to place on the working class, and I believe the ultra-wealthy should fund it instead. The increase also breaks the 2019 manifesto promise of not raising national insurance. How can we trust this government if it breaks its own manifesto promises? 

Although there are some baby steps in the right direction, I believe this budget to operate on the Dynamo approach to government. I’m sure Sunak will laugh at that one on his cheap domestic flight, sipping on his cheaper champagne. 

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