TRADE unions have highlighted the acute crisis facing millions of families facing steep rises in the cost-of-living, declaring that measures outlined in Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement will do little to alleviate the mass poverty spreading throughout the UK.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘With inflation at its highest for 30 years, Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement just tinkers around the edges of this shocking cost-of-living crisis.
‘Workers will still be facing sleepless nights worrying about how to make ends meet, overwhelmed by rocketing prices.
‘His Spring Statement does nothing to tackle the corporate elite, the billionaires who stash their loot but sack UK workers by Zoom.
‘Once again, ordinary working people bear the broadest burden while the super-rich get off scot-free.
‘That is why I’m calling on the government to join Unite in our new workers’ commission on profiteering because it’s not just the big six energy firms who have made money from this crisis.
‘What about those providers who made bundles charging exorbitant prices to our NHS during the pandemic? What about Amazon and the money it made from lockdown.
‘What about DP World, who made over $1 billion dollars in profit and then sacked P&O 800 workers on the spot?
‘Our commission will bring together experts and workers to uncover exactly where the money has gone, who has profited while others have suffered and who should really be paying the price for this pandemic.
‘One thing is clear, working people are paying for bad decisions made by powerful people. Unions must now step up to the plate and take over the reins. The rebirth of the trade union movement must now begin.’
Gary Smith, GMB General Secretary, said: ‘It’s time Rishi Sunak stopped fretting about being the next Tory leader and focused on providing real help for working people when they need it.
‘His talk of tax cuts in the distant future may win votes from his backbenchers, but it does nothing to help people now.
‘We’re in the grip of the worst cost of living crisis for 30 years, driven by an utterly predictable energy squeeze.
‘With inflation out of control and getting worse people are crying out for help with their skyrocketing bills.
‘Tory backbenchers may fall for his fluffy words, but working people know a false promise when they hear it.’
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘The government has merely tinkered around the edges of the living standards crisis. Tweaking tax thresholds will boost the coffers of the wealthy, not provide help to those in most need.
‘Promises to reduce taxes in future won’t cut the mustard with families living a financial hell now. Financial pain at the pumps won’t end with a few pence off fuel duty. Less affluent households are being driven off the roads.
‘Cheaper solar panels won’t put food on the table for families worried about where their next meal is coming from. Money is tight for millions of working people across the UK, many employed in essential public services.
‘The chancellor had the wriggle room to deliver widespread relief across NHS, care, council, police and school services. It’s outrageous he chose not to.
‘Public servants that the country placed so much faith in over the past two years have been badly let down. High quality, properly staffed public services are essential for us all. That requires investment in staff.
‘Allowing public sector pay to overtake prices won’t worsen the inflation spiral. Only real-terms wage increases will lead us out of the growing crisis.
‘But faced with an effective pay cut, many key workers won’t hang around. They’ll jump ship for calmer waters where better pay can help shield them from the growing prices storm.’
RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen, said: ‘Nurses feel extremely short-changed by this statement. The cost-of-living crisis means some are having to choose between filling up their cars and feeding their children.
‘Today’s fuel measures are not enough to stop nursing staff subsidising the NHS when they fill up their car.
‘When community nursing staff drive great distances to see their patients, giving vital care, this is not enough action – they need immediate additional payments and an urgent review of the rates.
‘The Chancellor had an opportunity today to show a commitment to nursing by pledging investment in health and care as we rebuild from the pandemic. Instead, the small print shows he is asking the NHS to double the amount of money it saves – he is trying to squeeze even more out of the same staff.
‘This is a false economy that hits patient care and won’t work.’
Doctors’ union the British Medical Council (BMA) council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: ‘Given the unprecedented pressure that the NHS is currently under, with patients experiencing life threatening waits for care and a serious workforce crisis in the NHS, it is disappointing that the government has failed to listen to our concerns around under-investment in our recent letter to the Chancellor.
‘While the government has retained its commitment to boost NHS funding through the Health and Social Care Levy, we were disappointed that there was no mention of how they would fund the extra £7billion needed to clear the current backlog.
‘It is deeply disappointing that the Chancellor has failed to heed the BMA’s call to address the punitive pension taxation rules, which is resulting in many doctors being unable to take on extra work or forced to retire early. This comes at a time of when severe staffing shortages threatens the very sustainability of the NHS and compromises patients care.
‘The absence of a costed plan to deliver a long-term workforce strategy was concerning, to ensure the NHS has the doctors, nurses and staff it needs to meet the healthcare demands of today and tomorrow.
‘With many people at risk of being plunged into further hardship as a result of the rising cost of living there is a serious risk that health inequalities will worsen significantly.’
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘If the government is serious about protecting living standards and building a strong economy, it must reverse the real terms cuts to teacher pay. Instead, with RPI inflation reaching 8.2% and in the midst of the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, the government plans yet more real terms pay cuts for teachers.
‘The government plans pay increases for most school teachers of only 3% in September 2022 and 2% in September 2023. These paltry increases are well below current and expected inflation, so teachers face another big pay cut in real terms following the long period of pay cuts dating back to 2010.
‘With inflation so high, the impact of this year’s pay cut on living standards could be even worse than last year’s teacher pay freeze. Teachers and lecturers in post-16 settings, and other educators including support staff and supply teachers, also face huge cuts to the real value of their pay against inflation.
‘Enough is enough. More pay cuts will increase the already serious teacher recruitment and retention problems that are clearly impacting negatively on children and young people’s education.
‘The government’s plan to inflict more real terms pay cuts is a damaging and dogmatic political choice.
‘The Chancellor’s refusal to increase education funding in the face of this inflation surge signals a return to the austerity of the 2010s.
‘The real terms growth rate for the Spending Review period (2022-23 to 2024-25) was 2% a year on previous inflation assumptions – already lower than the previous Spending Round. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated recently that at least a quarter of the real terms increase in spending will be wiped out through inflation.
‘The higher inflation goes the more will be lost. The Chancellor has missed an opportunity to protect our children’s futures.’
Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, said: ‘Our members were looking to the Chancellor today to signal he recognises and is prepared to take the necessary measures to help alleviate the growing financial pressures they are facing.
‘While the announcements about fuel duty and National Insurance will offer some modest assistance, our members are still facing a deepening crisis in making ends meet and there was little in today’s statement that will offer them much comfort or reassurance.
‘Our most recent research shows that two thirds of teachers are ‘somewhat worried’ about their financial situation and 22% are ‘very worried’.
‘Over half of teachers reported having to cut back their expenditure on food during 2021, with some having to resort to using food banks or other forms of charitable assistance. Four in ten reported having to cut back their expenditure on essential household items and 12% have taken a second job.
‘With inflation now rising at its fastest level in 30 years, teachers need a pay award for 2022/23 which will both meet the current cost of living pressures and which will begin to tackle the 19% real-terms erosion of their salaries they have endured since 2010.
‘The Chancellor claimed the government will stand by families over the cost of living. For too long teachers have been abandoned by this government, with a failure to invest in them or provide working conditions which support their wellbeing or work/life balance.
‘The decision on the forthcoming pay award will be the litmus test of whether there is any reality behind the Chancellor’s rhetoric.’
Shop workers union Usdaw’s General Secretary Paddy Lillis said: ‘Today was an opportunity to deliver the Prime Minister’s promise to ‘build back better’, but regrettably the Chancellor stuck to “business as usual”.
‘As the cost of living crisis rages, with RPI reaching yet another 30-year high, today’s measures which included a 5p cut to fuel duty, the possibility of cutting the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 19p (in two-years’ time) and raising the threshold for the amount people earn before they pay national insurance to £12,570, are simply not enough.
‘Too many workers are struggling to make ends meet in low-paid insecure employment and are desperate for substantial help from the government.
‘Usdaw had called for a minimum wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers, along with an end to precarious short-hours and zero-hours contracts, but the government is simply not listening.
‘The Chancellor remained silent on Universal Credit and as things stand, claimants will only get a 3.1% increase when inflation is over 8% – a big cut in income for the lowest paid workers.
‘The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that if the benefit increase stays as it is, nine million low-income households will be impacted – to the tune of £500 a year.
‘I’m afraid the government has today not done what workers need in the face of the cost of living crisis. The government has simply failed to understand the scale of the challenge faced by millions of workers across the country.’
Usdaw’s New Deal for Workers calls for:
- A minimum wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers immediately, ending rip-off youth rates and providing a living wage.
- Minimum contract of 16 hours per week, for everyone who wants it, that reflects normal hours worked and a ban on zero-hour contracts.
- Better sick pay for all workers, from day one, at average earnings.
- Protection at work – respect for shopworkers, abuse is not a part of the job.
- A proper social security system, Universal Credit does not provide a safety net.
- Job security, with day one employment rights for unfair dismissal and redundancy.
- Fair treatment and equality for all workers, including equal pay.
• A voice at work, stop rogue employers refusing to engage with trade unions and end ‘fire and rehire’.