Jeremy Corbynhas labelled Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over “a great big Conservative con”, using prime minister’s questions to call repeatedly for an end to cuts, along with pay rises for teachers, police officers and other public servants.
Avoiding Brexit to devote all his allotted questions to challenge the prime minister over thepromise in herTory conference speechlast week that an era of public spending cuts was over, the Labour leader called for action to this end in this month’s budget.
May responded by pointing to what she said was a loosening of the purse strings.
Corbyn began by asking about mental health in the NHS, saying: “Today is World Mental Health Day, and today there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010. The prime minister said last week that austerity is over. When will austerity be over for the mental health services?”
May responded by saying she was leading “a government that is actually ensuring that mental health is given attention that it needs”, claiming services werereceiving record levels of funding.
This began a series of exchanges over spending on areas including police, schools and local authorities, with May responding to Corbyn’s questions with a slew of statistics on government spending.
On schools, Corbyn responded: “The reality is that over half of teachers are getting another real-term pay cut next year. They’ve been subject to eight years of pay freezes, and pay rises capped above inflation. It’s no wonder there’s a chronic shortage of teachers.”
He continued by pointing toConservative-run councils such as Northamptonshireand Somerset, which have faced financial crises followingyears of cuts togovernment grants. May insisted the government had backed councils and was giving them more money in coming years.
The prime minister said: “Yes, we have had to make tough decisions, and yes, councils have been asked to make tough decisions. The reason we had to do that was because of the state of the public finances and the economy we were left by the Labour government.
“People have made sacrifices and they need to know that their hard work has paid off. And yes, better times are ahead – under a Conservative government.”
Corbyn ended by lambasting her approach, arguing it was false to claim austerity was at an end.
“Eight years of painful austerity. Poverty is up. Homelessness and deaths on our streets are up. Living standards down, public services slashed and a million elderly are not getting the care they need. Wages have been eroded and all the while, billions were found for tax giveaways for big corporations and the super-rich,” he said.
“The prime minister declared she is ending austerity, but unless the budget halts the cuts, increases funding to public services, gives our public servants a decent pay rise, then isn’t the claim that austerity is over simply a great big Conservative con?”