MANY of the measures announced in yesterday’s Budget by Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak had been widely publicised in the run up to his appearance in the House of Commons, mainly focusing on the extension of the Job Retention Scheme – furlough – until the end of September.
This, along with the commitment to maintain the temporary increase in Universal Credit by £20 for the same period, was clearly forced upon Sunak and the Tories, fearful that ending this meagre support in April as intended would cause an uprising by the millions of workers facing destitution.
On the crucial issue of what happens after September, Sunak was quite clear – support would end as he was committed to Boris Johnson’s ‘road map’ of reopening the entire economy in a matter of months.
Sunak admitted the economy had suffered ‘acute’ damage – with 700,000 people losing their jobs, 11 million having to rely on the furlough scheme to survive and the UK experiencing the biggest fall in its GDP for 300 years. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Tories have borrowed over £360 billion to date and the overall national debt is at a record high of nearly £2.3 trillion.
Sunak was adamant that this increasing debt could not be sustained, saying it would be ‘irresponsible to allow debt to rise unchecked’ and that he was determined to see it reduced by 2023.
Incredibly, Sunak boasted that British capitalism had entered the crisis in a position of strength thanks to 10 years of previous Tory governments’ building ‘financial resilience’ in the economy.
Ten years of Tory austerity, which saw workers’ wages cut and the mass privatisation drive that left public services like the NHS on their knees and completely unprepared to deal with the Covid pandemic, are now being praised by Sunak.
Sunak has never made a secret of the fact that he wants to return to full-blooded austerity to cut the national debt. He knows that all the debt being run up to bail out the economy cannot carry on indefinitely and that a reckoning must soon be made, insisting that in ‘normal’ times governments must never borrow to fund public spending.
Sunak is desperate to return to ‘normal’ times of savage austerity, reducing borrowing by slashing public spending and wage cutting.
It was noticeable, for instance, that while he was claiming that he intended to ‘protect the jobs and livelihoods’ of people, he in fact made no firm proposals about how this would happen, just vague promises that the economy would massively grow after the current lockdown ends.
His protection of the livelihoods of workers clearly didn’t extend to public servants. Last November, Sunak introduced a wage freeze for them and he gave no sign in the budget that this would be lifted.
One of the few concrete measures Sunak pledged, was not to increase taxes on the profits of businesses and large corporations. Profits come way before wages for Sunak.
Before the Budget, the Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘The Budget must be a firm commitment to securing as many jobs as possible by extending the furlough scheme to the end of the year and laying out a template as to how to create more employment opportunities for the post-Covid economy.’
Extending the furlough scheme until September will not permanently secure jobs as the union leaders hope and the budget contained nothing about rebuilding the economy.
Capitalism cannot be somehow rebuilt, and all this Budget does, is delay for a few months the eruption of mass unemployment and bankruptcies that will follow the ending of state bail-outs.
It will be used by the Tories to prepare the state to take on a mass movement of workers determined not to be driven into the gutter to ‘save’ a bankrupt capitalist system.
This was a class war budget.
The working class must prepare for the inevitable conflict by removing those leaders who refuse to fight for jobs and replace them with the revolutionary leadership of the WRP prepared to organise a general strike to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers government and a socialist planned economy.