|The News Line: Feature
Friday, 10 March 2017
Tory Budget: war on NHS, education & pay
IN REFUSING to lift the 1% public sector pay cap, chancellor Philip Hammond is condemning ‘just managing’ civil servants to wage cuts of up to 20%, the Public and Commercial Services union said on Wednesday in response to the budget.
|Unite members marching against the STP plans – the budget promises to speed up the STP attack on the NHS
The union highlighted new research that shows from 2010 to 2016 average civil service pay fell by between 8 and 9% in real terms.
The study, which uses Office for National Statistics data and was published this week, also found maintaining the 1% pay cap until 2020 would mean the value of pay falling by 12% when measured against consumer prices – and up to 20% if measured by the retail price index that includes housing costs.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘By any definition, the government’s own workforce, who are facing a 20% cut in their pay, are “just managing” and deserve the help the prime minister promised they would get. We will continue to fight to break the 1% pay cap and to stop Theresa May’s government condemning civil servants to three more years of wage cuts and hardship.’
Hundreds of thousands of Unison, GMB and Unite members working in the public sector have also endured a seven-year pay freeze and cap, but none of the leaders of these three unions followed Serwotka’s lead in pledging to fight to break it, merely noting it. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘For almost a decade nurses, teaching assistants, town hall staff and others in the public sector have had their wages frozen or been given minuscule pay rises.
‘These are the people keeping the NHS, schools and local communities afloat in tough times. The pay boost for Westminster politicians should’ve signalled a decent pay rise for the rest of the public sector, especially with inflation almost double the one per cent cap.
‘But without a mention from the Chancellor, public service employees will be feeling they’re the forgotten part of the “jam” generation. Most are not managing at all. There was nothing today to relieve their ongoing pay pain, and as wages rise elsewhere, public sector workers are being left further and further behind.’
Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary said: ‘The squeeze on living standards continues to put an unbearable strain on workers around the country. With wage growth predicted to fall, even more people face being dragged onto the bread line. The trouble with the government’s knock-off version of the living wage is that it’s set at a level that people can’t live on.
‘This should have been a Budget to provide a plan for fair pay and support for all workers, including for those in the public sector who’ve had an average of £9,000 pinched from their pay packets since 2010 and face losing £4,000 more in the three years ahead.
‘Instead, the Tories showed how out of touch they are by failing to help these dedicated public servants – all the while giving tax breaks to big business. Public services we all rely on are in crisis due to the cuts and underfunding over the last seven years. Nearly two thirds of adults think the cuts have gone too far, yet there is no plan coming from the Chancellor to rebuild the public services or to support those who are working in them. Instead they are ignoring what people want – and are prioritising £8.5 billion tax cuts for corporations.
‘Despite finally realising that their cuts to social care have plunged the sector into crisis, the government isn''t even offering half measures. The King’s Fund say £1.9 billion is needed next year yet the government are making a total £2 billion available to cover three years – after over £4 billion of cuts this gives us the grand total of minus £2.5 billion since 2010. They want to be seen to care – without funding it.’
Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, said: ‘This budget was extraordinary. The biggest challenge facing the UK economy for generations, Brexit, and the government’s preparedness for dealing with it only received a passing mention. It was absent of any sense that the chancellor or the government grasped the enormity of the shock that Brexit will bring to core manufacturing industries.
‘There were none of the basic initiatives needed to demonstrate that the government is serious about making its industrial strategy work. There was not one word of reassurance for the car industry or the tens of thousands of workers reliant on it for their job. The carmakers who are daily voicing their fears about a future in the UK will not have heard anything to soothe their fraying nerves.
‘Workers and employers have been left none the wiser as to how this government will prepare the economy for the seismic changes that Brexit will bring. The only thing we remain sure of is this government remains wedded to the senseless austerity that hurts working class communities hardest. The only promise we have is that of yet more cuts to our public services which are already at the point of crisis because of years of Tory austerity. We called upon the chancellor to show that he has listened to the concerns of working people, to prove that he is determined to create an economy based on decent, secure, well-paid work. He failed.’
The main announcement in Hammond’s budget speech was that he was making £325 million available to fast-track some of 44 hated Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) – the Tory NHS cuts and hospital closures plans – into being before the end of the year.
However, health union leaders Prentis, Roache and McCluskey never even mentioned this escalation of the Tory war on the NHS in their responses, while the leaders of the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association actually welcomed it.
Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said: ‘Today, the Chancellor missed an opportunity to give the NHS the level of investment he knows it needs. Some financial support for NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) is welcome but the government needs to clarify how many plans will be supported by this limited pot of money and guarantee that it will be channelled into struggling community services.
‘Extra support for experienced clinicians to triage patients at A&Es is a sticking plaster. If the government wants to properly support patients outside of hospitals and take care closer to home this needs to be organised in a way which integrates health and social care and is properly funded. The clinicians in A&E will need to have access to community services, including patients'' own GPs.
‘Investment in social care may help hospitals to discharge patients when medically ready and better support older and vulnerable people in their own home, but it is not a magic bullet. Hospitals and community services are chronically understaffed and nurses are working unpaid overtime to hold things together. Today’s Budget has done nothing to keep patient services staffed at the right level for safe care and nothing to value nursing staff after six years of real-terms cuts to their pay. If we are to keep the best nursing staff working here and fill thousands of vacancies, the government must properly fund the NHS and scrap the pay cap.’
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: ‘This budget does nothing to address the gaping hole in NHS finances. There is a £30bn gap to fill and we should be increasing the UK’s health spending by at least £10.3bn to match that of other leading European economies. The NHS and social care are at breaking point and have been failed by party politics for too long.
‘We need politicians from all sides to come together to agree a long-term solution to the challenges facing health and social care. We have a crisis in social care happening right now, so any funding to help provide the care patients so clearly need is a help. Failures within the social care system hugely affect an already stretched, overworked and underfunded NHS – most NHS trust finance directors have said that cuts in local authority social care budgets are adversely affecting NHS services.
For doctors to look after patients well, social care needs to be well-funded and adequately staffed.
‘The crisis in the NHS doesn’t stop at the hospital door – our A&Es are struggling because of an overstretched system. Having GPs in A&E won’t reduce admissions – if anything this could have the effect of attracting more patients to hospitals.
‘The government also needs to explain how it will fund and recruit GPs to work on site at hospitals when there already aren’t enough to meet the needs of the public. Many are already working in practices with permanent vacancies which they are unable to fill, despite government promises at the last election to recruit 5,000 more doctors into general practice.
‘The chancellor’s announcement of £325m of funding for some STPs is unlikely to go far enough, and we know that the plans need at least £9.5bn of total capital funding to be delivered successfully. Our health service is one of the best in the world, but is, increasingly, failing too many people for too much of the time. Put simply, today’s budget does not go far enough to address this.’
Hammond’s announcement that some ‘pioneer’ STPs are to be fast-tracked and imposed before the end of the year means that in these areas there will be open warfare between health workers and local communities on one side and the Tory government on the other. The GMB, Unite and Unison leaderships’ ignoring of the issue and the BMA’s and RCN’s welcoming of it flies in the face of their members’ interests and wishes, presaging a huge upheaval in these unions.
A new leadership must come forward in these unions that will oppose the Tory STPs with all their power. Of course, education also came under attack in the budget, with Hammond announcing funding for an extra 110 privately run free schools, some of which are to be grammars – on top of the 500 free schools already announced.
The strangulation of state education is already well underway through the massive cuts in school budgets imposed with the slashing of pupil funding through the introduction of the new Tory ‘fair funding formula’.
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT, said: ‘This budget is a complete dereliction of duty to our children and young people. The Chancellor knows full well that schools and sixth form colleges up and down the country are on their knees struggling to make ends meet. School budgets have been cut to the bone, class sizes have increased, subjects have been dropped from the curriculum, materials and resources are scarce yet nothing has been done to address this very serious problem.
‘All this comes at a time of soaring pupil numbers and a developing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Despite the Conservative Party manifesto pledging a real-terms increase in the schools’ budget during this Parliament, the reality is far from the case. 98% of schools will see a real terms loss in funding per pupil between now and 2020. This takes into account the government’s proposed ‘fair funding’ formula.
‘In the Prime Minister’s constituency of Maidenhead, for instance, schools are set to lose an average of real terms loss of £377 per pupil, while the schools in Philip Hammond’s constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge will lose an average of £285 per pupil during the same period. Instead of tackling this crisis of their own making, we now learn that extra funding will pour into the opening of new free schools and grammar schools for which there is absolutely no need.
Parents and teachers will be deeply dismayed at this flagrant and irresponsible waste of money. These are simply the wrong priorities.
‘Any improvement to the current state of technical and vocational is welcome, but teachers will be concerned that introducing ‘T-Levels’ will increase the separation of academic and vocational pathways. As with its policy on grammar schools, the government is fixated on creating educational divides – to the detriment of young people.
‘The NUT supports a reformed, unified system of 14-19 curriculum and qualifications which helps bring an end to the notion that academic and technical learning pathways are an ‘either/or’ option. The money proposed for investment in school refurbishment will be welcome providing it is actually new money and will be spent on ensuring that school buildings are fit for purpose and safe from the dangers of asbestos. Nevertheless, with the National Audit Office having recently reported that it would cost some £6.7 billion to repair all school buildings to a satisfactory standard, we require much more substantial investment from the government.
‘The government must focus on the funding crisis in our schools and colleges. The Chancellor had an opportunity to rectify this in his Budget but chose not to. This is an outrageous situation. Parents, teachers and MPs, many within the Conservative Party, will not stand by and allow this to happen.’
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘While additional investment in Further Education is to be welcomed, this still only represents a fraction of what has been cut from post-16 education and training budgets since 2010, where real-terms funding per student has fallen dramatically.
‘With Brexit on the horizon, the government needs urgently to demonstrate that its Industrial Strategy will deliver the vital injection of support to the post-16 sector that is desperately needed. We hope that with a renewed focus on technical qualifications, the government will now work with the sector to ensure that all young people, regardless of prior attainment, have access to a wide choice of relevant and high-status learning opportunities and pathways which prepare them for life beyond school and college.’
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘The government has failed to consider the needs of the majority of children and young people in not increasing the funding for all state schools. Parents and children will be deeply disappointed that the Chancellor has not taken this opportunity to put more money into the National Funding Formula, which would be the best way to improve social mobility and ensure all children get a good education. Putting more money into free schools and grammar schools will not benefit most children and is a costly way of providing extra school places.
‘Despite the government’s claims of many “winners” from its proposed National Funding Formula, around 98% of schools face real-terms cuts in funding for every pupil. Head teachers are already having to increase class sizes, which is taking teachers’ workloads to breaking point and diminishing the amount of attention for each pupil. Schools do not have enough in their budgets to provide enough text books, IT equipment, and extra-curricular activities and are being forced to look at cutting staff.
‘The extra £216 million for school buildings will only go a small way towards funding the £6.7 billion the National Audit Office says is needed to return all school buildings to at least a satisfactory condition. We look forward to working with ministers on their plans for school sport and healthy living education following the Chancellor’s commitment to provide the full amount originally forecast to be brought in by the sugar levy.
‘But the government has done nothing to address the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, which is being exacerbated by their growing workload (the latest DfE stats showed 93% of teachers said their workload is a very or fairly serious problem). As teachers’ pay loses value compared to other graduate jobs and against inflation, recruitment and retention of high quality teachers is getting ever more difficult.
‘Until the Chancellor loosens his predecessor’s public sector pay restraint and fully funds a pay rise of more than 1% for all school staff, the crisis is likely to get worse. It’s good news that the government is finally putting funding into training for 16-19 year olds on technical courses. But this is against a backdrop of further education funding being cut to the bone, and expected to fall to the lowest level in 30 years by 2020 according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
‘With uncertainty about the future employment prospects of the EU-national workforce, ministers must ask themselves whether they’re doing enough to develop the people that businesses and society are relying on to make our non-EU future a success. This economic uncertainty makes it even more important not to let education funding wither.
‘The apprenticeship levy risks being a wasted opportunity unless the government ensures the levy is ringfenced for apprenticeship training and does more to inform companies about it, as many are woefully unprepared. A City & Guilds report showed that a third of employers eligible to pay the levy do not know about it even though they will begin paying it in April.
‘While we are pleased the government is putting £40 million into pilots for lifelong learning schemes, this is a drop in the ocean when adult education budgets have been cut by at least 35% over the past seven years.’
University and College Union general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Our colleges have been cut to the bone in recent years and we urgently need proper investment to give people of all ages looking to improve their skills the best chance to succeed. If the chancellor wants a country that is match-fit for Brexit he needs to look at a rounded funding package that covers young people and adults and introduce it now, not at the end of the decade, so that colleges aren’t at a standing start when the new technical routes kick in.
‘Plans for technical education to have parity of esteem with degrees are not new, but we need more detail on these plans, not simply news that the government have earmarked technical courses as a way for more students to pay fees.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Today the Chancellor missed the opportunity to get Britain match-fit for Brexit by investing in jobs and infrastructure. The government promised an economy that works for everyone. But millions of low-income workers face cuts to in-work support, while big business is handed a huge tax cut.
‘Workers will be no better off at the end of the Parliament than they were set to be at the time of the last Autumn Statement. The acid test for the Chancellor’s self-employment tax changes is whether they crack down on employers who force low-paid workers into bogus self-employment.
‘Today’s extra funding for social care is desperately needed. But at a time when waiting times are soaring, it’s astonishing that the government has left a huge hole in NHS funding. And there’s still no real pay rise for Britain’s dedicated nurses, teachers and public service workers.’
O’Grady must be the only person in the country who is ‘astonished’ at the Tory cuts to NHS funding. It is clear for all to see that the Tory policy is to starve the NHS of funding in order the more easily to privatise it. The STPs have been rightly dubbed by the Unite union as Slash, Trash and Privatise.
They must be defeated by the unions occupying all closure-threatened A&Es, Maternity Units, paediatrics units and other NHS facilities to keep them open and keep them running. STPs must be smashed through the TUC calling a general strike to defend the NHS and kick the Tories out for good.
In the present situation, what is required is a trade union leadership that will mobilise the working class to bring down the government and go forward to socialism. The Workers Revolutionary Party is fighting to build this leadership – join today.
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