‘Budget does nothing to ease biggest squeeze ever!’ – unions slam Hammond

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Housing campaigners were joined by disabled people fighting benefit cuts on Budget day
Housing campaigners were joined by disabled people fighting benefit cuts on Budget day

TODAY’S Budget is far from the ‘game-changer’ the country needs and will do little to ease the biggest squeeze in living standards the country has ever seen, Britain’s largest union, Unite warned on Wednesday.

Responding to the Budget delivered by chancellor of exchequer Philip Hammond, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘Millions of households, who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of the biggest squeeze in living standards ever, will be left wondering where is this bright future the chancellor keeps going on about?

‘With yet further bleak downgraded forecasts for growth, wages and productivity, this is the time when this country desperately needed a game-changing budget to meet the challenges of the years ahead. Instead we got more of the same from a government out of touch with people’s everyday struggles.

‘Communities continue to face more of the cuts which have sucked the life out of the economy, with wages plummeting and personal debt soaring to dangerous levels. Services like our NHS, schools and police services face becoming ragged shadows of what they once were. Public sector workers, whose wages have been drained by thousands since the Tories took office, cannot provide for their families with warm words for their selfless service.

‘All public sector workers need the pay cap lifted now and a properly funded pay rise, not a pick and mix where only a chosen few see an end to the relentless pay shrinkage. And on the biggest issue of our age, Brexit, the businesses upon whom millions depend for work are no clearer today on the government’s plans to steer us through our EU exit than they were this time yesterday.

‘The comprehensive package of investment in skills and infrastructure we urgently need was missing. What was offered instead by the chancellor was piecemeal initiatives. It leaves next week’s industrial strategy announcement with the task of demonstrating that the government does actually have a coherent plan to invest in industry and infrastructure to create decent jobs.

‘While we got minimal progress on improving the country’s ability to capitalise on vehicle electrification, we did not get the great leap forward that Unite has been calling for. The UK will continue to lag well behind competitor countries like Germany, Norway and China in this important new technology unless the government acts with greater urgency with bigger investment and good joined-up policies, such as giving cab drivers grants to go electric, as they are doing in London.

‘Chancellor Hammond had the chance today to set our country on a path to being a fairer, more equal nation. That he chose not to, confirms what voters suspect about the Conservatives, that they are for the few, not the many.’

• Commenting on the Budget on Wednesday, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘The chancellor says he wants to make Britain “fit for the future” – but his deeply disappointing Budget has left public services gasping for air.

‘All public sector workers needed a real pay rise today, not yet another let down. Healthcare assistants, care workers, school receptionists and other public servants struggling to get by can’t survive on wages that bump along at the bottom while prices soar.

‘This was a Budget to match the dull and gloom of a November day. The hopes of NHS staff may have been raised slightly, but there’s no actual money on the table. This is still a long way from the across the board pay rise needed to save our public services. The NHS is important, and so is every other part of the public sector.

‘Dedicated public service employees deserve so much more than pats on the back. It’s time they and the hospitals, schools and councils they work for saw the colour of the chancellor’s money. It’s time for the government to pay up now.’

• Tim Roache, GMB general secretary said: ‘People will rightly feel let down by what they’ve seen and heard today – and even more so when they see the small print. The public sector pay cap remains, bringing misery to thousands of front line workers who spend their lives teaching our kids, keeping us safe and looking after us when we’re ill.

‘The chancellor failed to mention social care once or to do enough for the millions of people struggling to save for their first home or get off housing waiting lists. This is a government that has run out of steam and ideas.’

• Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members and workers across the public sector face growing pay poverty as chancellor Philip Hammond failed to act to address the crisis in public sector pay in his budget this lunchtime, the union said. Pay in the public sector has been frozen and then capped for the past 7 years, causing huge hardship for hundreds of thousands of people, the PCS stressed.

It said: ‘PCS called on the government to:

‘• End to the 1% pay cap – now, with pay increases above the rate of inflation to compensate members for the cut in living standards, of 5% or £1,200, whichever is the greater.

‘• Guarantee a Living Wage of at least £10 per hour on all pay policies and contracts.

‘• Return to national pay bargaining at Cabinet Office level on pay for all staff in the civil service and its related bodies.

‘• Resource HMRC adequately to collect tax required to properly fund public services.

‘But the chancellor completely failed to address any of these issues in his Budget today.’

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka’s gave his verdict on the budget: ‘The abject failure of the chancellor to address the issue of public sector pay sums up this government’s attitude to its own workforce. In his Budget the chancellor failed to either make clear the cap is to be scrapped or put additional funding into departments to fund above inflation pay increases.

‘It shows the government doesn’t care about the crisis that its austerity programme has created. Our members sent a resounding message to the chancellor in a recent ballot that the cap needed to be scrapped. His failure to listen and act is staggering.

‘PCS will now, as a matter of urgency, step up our campaign on pay, in alliance with other public sector unions, to force the chancellor – or anyone who replaces him – to rectify this deeply damaging policy.’

• Following Philip Hammond’s Budget announcement of a review of airline insolvency arrangements to protect the public, pilots have raised concerns the proposals do not appear to include staff. The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has said that it’s important the process is reviewed, and staff of collapsed airlines should also be considered in this process.

BALPA General Secretary, Brian Strutton, said: ‘I welcome the review announced by the chancellor. The recent example with Monarch showed there are definitely some flaws in the way we carry out insolvency arrangements when it comes to the collapse of an airline, particularly regarding staff. I have written to the chancellor to ask him to ensure that this aspect is part of the review’s terms of reference.

‘Monarch pilots lost their jobs and livelihoods, and with them, a significant amount of money in wages following the collapse. We are also concerned about the decision to wet-lease aircraft from airline carriers, including non-EU carriers, to repatriate customers, while Monarch pilots and aircraft remained grounded. The reasons for this were bureaucratic, and the rules could certainly be changed to at least give pilots a few more days’ employment.’

• The TUC analysis of the official figures published for Wednesday’s Budget shows that wages are now set to be worth £800 less per year in 2021 than had been expected at the budget in March. The TUC warned that investment measures in Wednesday’s Budget are far below what is needed to boost growth, get wages rising, and get Britain fit for Brexit.

Capital investment is set to peak at 2.9% GDP, and average 2.8% GDP, across the current parliament to 2022. This will leave it far short of the OECD average of 3.5% GDP. On wages, TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: ‘The news for workers gets worse and worse. Their wages are set to be worth hundreds of pounds less than the government thought in the coming years. This Budget won’t give Britain the pay rise it so badly needs.’

On investment, she added: ‘The chancellor’s job today was to get Britain’s economy fit for Brexit. But what he announced falls far short of the investment boost the economy needs. And it leaves us trailing our competitors.

‘The government must urgently up its game, or life outside of the EU will be a rough ride for working people. Investment must be targeted at the big sectors of the future, like low-carbon industry. And it must be directed towards communities that are most in need of more and better jobs.’

On changes to Universal Credit, she added: ‘Making people wait less for Universal Credit is a small step forward, but big changes are needed or working people will be left thousands of pounds a year worse off. If the chancellor can afford tax cuts for big business, he can afford to help working families.’