|Volume 50 Number 26, July 11, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Chancellor Rishi Sunak's budget last week purported to deal with the economic crisis caused by the effects of measures taken to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. In reality, it does nothing to allay the concerns of working people for their own futures and meet their fears that the government is intent on brushing everything aside in order to favour vested private interests.
The key proposal was the so-called "job retention bonus". This is a hand-out to businesses of £1,000 per worker retained. It goes to businesses whether they had plans to create redundancies or not. Itself it is a very short-term measure, dealing with workers retained in employment as of January 31, 2021. Most importantly, it bears no relation to the reality that the pandemic has shown that the economy needs a new direction to thrive and serve the needs of the people. It is of course questionable whether the measure will have any effect on manufacturing and other big businesses that plan to sack workers after the period of furlough ends. Workers and their unions are expressing their opposition to this scheme pointing out that it will not guarantee workers employment, and underlines the government's thinking that the only issue is to get back to "business as usual".
The Chancellor's proposals do not even recognise the sectors of the economy which are essential. Commentators have pointed out that a way forward would have been to recognise the vulnerable, the lowest paid and working people who are facing financial hardship, nor has the government taken account of the vast numbers of the self-employed and temporary contractors who have not been able to access any government assistance. Nor is there recognition of the crucial role that the public sector plays in a modern economy.
It is also reported that the proposal, along with the half-price restaurant deal, dubbed a "Meal Deal not a New Deal", had had the opposition of HMRC and Treasury officials, but that Rishi Sunak directly over-ruled them. This itself is indicative of the trend to jettison the old arrangements of government and entrench the executive's use of emergency powers as normal.
The issue with the Chancellor's package is not so much that far more is needed, as that a new quality must be brought to bear on the economy. Even in terms of the old "business as usual" standards there is no semblance of dealing with the recovery of the economy, which will remain as crisis-ridden as before, and worse. The measures are aimed at paying the rich, and the context of the coronavirus crisis appears as mere window-dressing.
The working people are being faced with the increased scourge of unemployment on a massive scale. What is also staring people in the face and which they are up in arms about is the lack of investment in social programmes. The pandemic has brought this out in stark relief. And it is reported that where the government has placed contracts without the customary tendering process, they have been dubious, incoherent, incompetent, corrupt and directing Treasury funds to the vested narrow private interests those in power serve. Workers are taking a stand against the assault on their livelihoods and attempts to undermine their ability to fight for their rights and interests, whether it be in the health service, in education, in construction, in public services, the hospitality industry and so on, including those on zero-hours contracts.
Perhaps the most salient feature of all in the budget statement was that there is no recognition of the workers as the producers of social wealth, and the necessity for them to have the decisive say in setting the aim of the economy. What is happening is completely different and amounts to an all-out assault on the working class and people. The financial oligarchs are only too ready to buy government debt with the knowledge that the people are the ones who will pay for the debt servicing. To safeguard the future of the economy, a new direction is required. The economy being geared to paying the rich is unacceptable, and an economic programme that puts the needs of the people at the centre of considerations is what must be fought for. Now is the time to reject the Old.
What Trade Unions Have Said
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:
"Mass unemployment is now the biggest threat facing the UK, as shown by the thousands of job losses at British Airways, Airbus and elsewhere. The government must do far more to stem the rising tide of redundancies. We can't afford to lose any more good skilled jobs. The chancellor should have announced targeted support for the hardest-hit sectors like manufacturing and aviation. Struggling businesses will need more than a one-off job retention bonus to survive and save jobs in the long-term. [...] The government should have announced extra investment in jobs across all public services - starting with filling the 200,000 vacancies in the NHS and social care. And if the chancellor wants people to have the confidence to eat out, he should have announced a pay rise for hard-pressed key workers rather than dining out discounts for the well-off."
Mike Clancy, General Secretary of the Prospect union, said the Chancellor had "failed to acknowledge that there are some sectors that need extra support so they can retain viable jobs until they can reopen". He added: "The chancellor started his statement saying that 'nobody will be left without hope', but there was nothing in his new package for the millions of forgotten freelancers and others who have been left with no hope and no support for months."
Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, which represents workers in the broadcasting industry, said: "There were millions of forgotten freelancers and others across the country hanging on the chancellor's every word today, but once again the government has let them down and failed to recognise the plight of those who have fallen through the gaps."
Andy Chamberlain, of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, added: "Although there were many positive measures to boost the economy in the chancellor's statement today, the self-employed were noticeable by their absence. While the chancellor has announced a measured and sensible end to the employee furlough scheme in October, freelancers are left to face a cliff-edge in August. Some freelancers relying on the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) may benefit from the sectoral support announced today, but many more will not."
The government should build on the huge public support shown for the NHS during the pandemic by giving health workers across Britain an early pay rise, health unions stated.
The 14 unions  - representing more than 1.3 million nurses, cleaners, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, dieticians, radiographers, porters, midwives, paramedics and other NHS employees - have written both to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister calling for pay talks to start soon so staff get a wage boost before the end of the year.
In the letters, the unions - including UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy - say the pandemic has made the dedication and commitment of NHS staff plain for all to see.
Health workers are nearing the end of a three-year pay deal. Unions are urging the government to provide the funding for a fair and early pay rise for all NHS staff - including the many domestics, catering workers, security guards and other support staff working for private contractors.
UNISON head of health Sara Gorton, who also chairs the NHS group of unions, said: "The applause and kind words shown during the difficult days of the pandemic were a huge source of comfort to NHS staff. But now the government should show its appreciation in a different way."
Hannah Reed from the RCN, who is also acting secretary to the health unions' group, said: "Across the NHS, nursing and healthcare staff are still working harder than ever. These people are the country's greatest asset. When we celebrate that, politicians must think about how staff can be fairly paid and valued. They do not need more warm words and praise that, to many, is already beginning to feel hollow. An earlier pay rise will go some way to showing the government values all they do, not just this year but day in, day out. Proper recognition and pay to match it will go some way to addressing the number of unfilled jobs."
Executive director for external relations at the Royal College of Midwives Jon Skewes, who is also treasurer for the NHS group of unions, said: "Midwives and all NHS staff deserve a fair and decent pay rise. They did before this pandemic and they certainly do now. To truly value the contribution of NHS staff, their pay must be restored in real terms. Currently there are staff shortages right across the NHS and the government should be doing all it can to retain and attract new staff. This is not an ask for an additional 'pandemic payment', but rather a pay deal that will ensure our NHS is fit for the future. We hope by bringing this pay settlement forward this can be achieved."
1. The 14 NHS unions are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, UNISON and Unite.
(TUC, The Independent, PA, Unison)