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Workers have been failed throughout this crisis, now this Budget declares war on them

The fight for pay justice in this coming year falls once more onto the shoulders of the trade unions, says HOWARD BECKETT

CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak said this is a Budget that provides more help for workers. David Cameron called it a war budget.

Yet this is not the case — this Budget attacks the low-paid and will exacerbate all the problems in society that Covid-19 has highlighted, from health and wealth inequalities, to food poverty, to millions unemployed and the rise of insecure work.

After the war Britain introduced massive economic stimulus — the creation of a social state, our NHS and third-tier education eligible for all. 

This Budget, instead of bringing about structural change in society, will build on the Tory agenda of deregulation and in-work poverty.

This week is not only Budget week, it is also the anniversary of the first UK Covid death — there was no mention of that or the excess deaths due to Covid-19 in today’s Budget.

No mention of the lengths that workers have had to go to in order to cope with this pandemic in a country with one of the worst death rates in the world, key workers putting themselves at risk every day to help people, to deal with government failures on PPE, test and trace, to cope with the consequences of government strategies like Eat Out to Help Out and failures of the government to follow its own scientific advice on lockdowns.

Instead of support, these key workers who have put their lives at risk every single day throughout this crisis are told they don’t deserve a pay rise — in fact they can have a real-terms pay cut.

Instead of investment in people or society, we got the creation of eight low-tax free ports, delays in a corporation tax increase, the freezing of income tax thresholds and a tiny increase in the minimum wage while giving tax breaks for stamp duty for those with second homes.

The freezing of income tax thresholds is particularly nasty from the nasty party — taking hundreds of pounds off of low-paid workers.

The failure to make the £20 universal credit uplift permanent or to extend it to the many disabled people on legacy benefits will leave many people in poverty. 

They also announced a £2 billion council tax hike, again hitting low-paid workers hardest.

Sunak said this was a Budget for jobs. Yet the extension of the Job Retention Scheme isn’t even a sticking plaster — it leaves 4.7 million people on furlough struggling to pay the bills while only receiving 80 per cent of their wages.

The mortgage protection scheme doesn’t help those being evicted for rent arrears through the government’s loopholes in the eviction ban, or those paying 40 per cent of their earnings on rent, nor does it help the millions of people on homeless waiting lists or those living on our streets. 

Sunak claims it will help first-time buyers — the reality is this Budget will mean house prices rise even more, when the average house in the UK already costs more than eight times average earnings.

This Budget does nothing to deal with the rent debt crisis, the household debt crisis or the millions in food poverty — you may well think that the most vulnerable in society do not matter to Tories.

Sunak’s Budget did nothing for students who are in record amounts of debt and have been saddled with £1 billion worth of rent charges for accommodation they could not use.

It neglected the public sector, not just in refusing to raise the pay of public-sector workers, but also in refusing to invest in funding for the NHS which will be facing a catch-up crisis as well as dealing with this pandemic. 

It also neglected local government workers and there was no mention of support for our education sector. 

Filling the 600,000 vacancies in the public sector would be a start to ensuring we were able to rebuild.

There was no mention of social care — whose staff were thrown to the wolves in the pandemic and then ignored in this Budget. 

There were far too many other areas the Tories “forgot” to mention — childcare, mental health provision, young people’s unemployment and of course the huge omission of green jobs and the climate emergency.

UK billionaires added £33bn to their wealth in 2020. We don’t expect to see the Tories demand a wealth tax — but of course it is a disgrace that we didn’t hear the Labour front bench demand one either.

Instead we saw the Tories promise to raise corporation tax — but not until 2023 — and Labour’s opposition giving them the opportunity to talk about tax rises on profit but not actually deliver them.

The fight in this coming year then falls once more onto the shoulders of the trade unions, we must demand investment in green jobs, a 15 per cent pay rise for NHS and local government workers, a minimum wage of £15 an hour, a national care sector as part of our NHS, the cancelling of student debt, fair rents, the end to fire and rehire, the right to food and the £20 universal credit uplift extended to legacy benefits and made permanent.

Throughout this crisis we have seen a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest, the Tories pushing their ideological agenda of deregulation and in-work poverty.

Trade unions will be those ensuring that this government cannot make workers pay for this crisis — and that starts from a campaign to change society and an acceptance that society is failing, capitalism is failing and greed is winning.

Howard Beckett is Unite assistant general secretary for politics and legal.

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