Austerity is “impacting” public health and the UK Government has “got a responsibility” to end it, the SNP’s leader in Westminster has warned ahead of this week’s Budget.
Ian Blackford called on the Government to recognise that “now is the time not just because of coronavirus, but it puts it into sharp focus, that we need to have that investment in our NHS”.
As cases of the COVID-19 in the UK continue to rise, Blackford said: “All necessary steps that need to be taken to protect the citizens in conjunction with the devolved administrations should be taken.”
New Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to deliver his first Budget on March 11 against an uncertain economic backdrop following the global spread of the virus.
Blackford said: “I think not just in the UK, but globally we have to reflect on what coronavirus could do to confidence and there is an indication not just here, but through G7 that there will be an importance given to monetary measures, in terms of what could happen as far as rates are concerned, what could happen in terms of liquidity and that’s important.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s Budget speech in the Commons, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber argued for an increase in health spending “to the average in Scotland”, plus the removal of the rape clause and two child benefits limit, pension justice for the Waspi women and further action on climate change.
He said: “This I would say has been about political choices over the last ten years… the monetary policy initiatives they have been enormous in their entirety over the course of the last ten years and ordinary people have paid a price.
“These are before you consider the impact of what coronavirus might do in the short term and we hope that that is limited for all our interests, but there are signs which are there that austerity is impacting public health, is impacting life expectancy, is impacting infant mortality and Government has got a responsibility to end austerity.
“There still is a squeeze on public finances that has been imposed by this Government, now is the time to bring that to an end.”
Blackford said he had “wider concerns” as to how Government is functioning as he reiterated his call for the Prime Minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings to appear before the Liaison Committee asking “who is pulling the strings in Government”.
He said: “I’m deeply concerned as to what’s happening under the stewardship of this Prime Minister. This Prime Minister that seems to be hiding from Parliament, hiding from scrutiny, seems to be handing political power to an unelected official that needs to be brought in front of Parliament.”