TRADE union leaders responded weakly, without any call to action, to Chancellor Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday, in which he announced a massive extension of the Tory cuts and privatisation programme, along with a U-turn on the planned tax credit cuts.
Nursing students are to be charged fees for their training for the first time. Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive & General Secretary said: ‘A realistic long-term funding settlement for the NHS has been desperately needed for some time and whilst today’s commitment is positive, student nurses shouldn’t be the ones having to pay for it.
‘The Government has finally recognised that there is a nursing shortage and a promise of 10,000 extra health professionals in this Parliament will be a boost to the health service. Student nurses aren’t like other students. 50% of their time is spent in clinical practice working directly with patients and their families and they have a longer academic year.
‘These proposals will saddle future generations of these student nurses with even more debt and financial pressures and unless nurses’ pay improves, many graduates will never be in a position to pay their loans back. The ring-fence to nursing student funding has been removed and a precious link between the NHS and its nurses is potentially at risk, making it harder to plan for the future workforce.
‘There are still a lot of question marks about how the system will actually work but the RCN is certain that anything that makes people worse off or deters them from becoming nurses, would be a big loss to our society.’
Unison, which also has hundreds of thousands of nursing members, had nothing to say about the introduction of tuition fees for nursing students, only welcoming Osborne’s other U-turn, on the planned police cut. Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘It would have been unthinkable to cut police budgets in light of the dreadful events in Paris.
‘The 25 per cent cuts that have been imposed since 2010 have decimated neighbourhood policing in many parts of the country. One in three Police Community Support Officers have already gone in England, along with one in five police staff. But the threat of cuts has not gone away. Many forces around the country are planning to cut staff in scientific services and investigative roles in the coming months, and those jobs may still be at risk.
‘Given that the Chancellor had an extra £27bn of income, this was a missed opportunity to use some of that money to start to reverse those cuts, and give extra cash to the police so they are equipped to deal with any threat to national security.’
Amongst the measures Osborne announced was that sixth form colleges are now to be pressured or forced into becoming academies, but University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, Sally Hunt, had nothing to say on the issue, condemning instead the extension of student loans to to younger students.
She said: ‘Today’s statement clearly recognised the importance of education at all levels to the success of our economy, but the Chancellor’s main funding solution appears to be extending loans and loading more debt onto students. This approach will lead to the poorest paying most for their education. Take-up of further education loans in particular has been sluggish to date, so asking younger students to take on loans is a risky move for the sector.’
Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, issued advice to Osborne on running the economy. He said: ‘George Osborne’s numbers only add up provided the growth forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility for GDP growth of 2.4% in 2015, then 2.4% in 2016, 2.5% in 2017, 2.4% in 2018 and 2.3% in 2019 and 2020 actually happen. This is far from certain.
‘The Government has missed an opportunity to expand the tax base of the economy to pay for the public services and benefits valued by the public. The cuts will hurt the vulnerable. On the care sector George Osborne is passing the buck. Everybody knows that the adult care sector is facing a huge funding crisis. Mr Osborne has passed the buck to the whim of local authorities rather than face up the fact that the Government itself has the responsibility to fund the care of the elderly and other vulnerable adults.’
Osborne announced that funding of school places will no longer be partially based on social deprivation, but will be a flat rate regardless of local conditions. Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘Without significant additional resources, reallocation of school funding under the Government “Fair Funding” proposals will not address schools’ funding problems and many areas will face very big cuts.
‘The cut of £600 million to the Education Services Grant is another cut to education funding and the Government’s plan to reduce the local authority role in education still further will mean less support for schools. Funding for 16-19 education was cut by 14% in real terms cuts under the Coalition Government, pushing sixth form colleges to the brink.
‘These cuts need to be restored, but today’s announcement means more real terms cuts for 16-19. Sixth form colleges’ liability for VAT needs to be removed without compelling them to become academies. The funding problems faced by FE colleges also need to be addressed as many 16-19 students are in FE colleges.
‘Schools and colleges are already struggling. We are seeing job cuts, increasing class sizes and cuts to learning materials even before the impact of these latest cuts. Teachers are seeing their pay and conditions attacked even though there are already major problems in attracting and retaining teachers, with pupil numbers rocketing.’
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, maintaining his position of no call for action, said: ‘Like some economic Dr Frankenstein, George Osborne is conducting some wild experiment on the UK economy and the living standards of the British people.
‘We have never before been in a place where a chancellor will pursue a surplus for no evident economic gain. This was a spending review that reflected his zeal, not Britain’s ideals, which will hurt businesses and people struggling to make ends meet.
‘We heard nothing today from the chancellor about action to save our manufacturing and steel industries which are the bedrock of our economy. The business department has been reduced to rubble sending a signal that this government has no interest in developing the higher waged, higher skills economy we urgently need.
‘What we did hear was a sleight of hand on tax credits which will see 140,000 families on Universal Credit suffer a full cut now and falling incomes for many more from 2018.
‘The attack on affordable housing and housing benefit will condemn people to in-work poverty. Once again, with further education being squeezed, our young people will feel only the cold shoulder of this government when what they need is a helping hand. If Osborne hits his surplus in 2020, even by one penny, it will be because he has razed to the ground the support and services we all rely on to keep our society safe and functioning.’
John Hannett, USDAW General Secretary, welcomed the U-turn on tax credits, saying: ‘The Chancellor has finally listened to us and our members. We will need to see the full detail of what the Chancellor has announced in his autumn statement, but if he has abandoned the tax credit cuts he proposed in the Budget that will be a huge relief to millions of working families who were set to suffer huge losses of income.’
Public and Commercial Services union responded to the statement saying, ‘PCS has condemned Chancellor George Osborne’s attacks on the welfare budget and public services as he announced multi-billion pound cuts in his autumn statement and spending review. The chancellor remains committed to the £12.5bn welfare cut he outlined in the summer budget, as well as more than £20bn in departmental spending cuts up to 2020.
‘Since 2010, almost 90,000 civil service jobs have been cut, including more than one in four in lower paid admin grades. Further cuts to departmental budgets announced today will lead to tens of thousands more losing their jobs.
‘The two largest departments, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, both announced this summer they were recruiting thousands more staff. But still their budgets are being cut and all but 13 of HMRC’s 170 UK offices have been earmarked for closure.
‘The Passport Agency also had to recruit more than 1,000 staff after serious problems caused by understaffing were exposed by the passports crisis in the summer of 2014. Civil and public servants face another four years of pay cuts, after their living standards were slashed by 20% under the last government.’
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka had this response to Osborne’s announcement: ‘The Tories’ wrecking-ball plan for our welfare state will set the country back decades and leave families who are already struggling even worse off. The scale of departmental cuts means services to the public will not just suffer, they will be torn to shreds.
‘In the last five years, George Osborne has failed on his own terms and can now only claim to be trying to fix an economy he himself has broken. It is clearer than ever that stripping billions of pounds from our economy in the name of austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity, and it is not working.’
Leaders of the Prison Officers Association expressed serious concerns following the announcement to close Holloway Prison and sell off the land for housing. The decision to announce Holloway for closure will do nothing but de-stabilise the lives of staff and prisoners alike. This is another example of a government who will stop at nothing to save money.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The Chancellor has been forced into a spectacular climb-down on tax credits. But by the end of the parliament many working people will still suffer big losses because he is keeping planned cuts to Universal Credit.
‘It’s good to hear the Chancellor talk about industrial policy, but the real test is whether he acts to save Britain’s steel, which is the foundation for more successful manufacturing and our balance of trade …
‘If the Chancellor really wants to battle for blue-collar Britain, he needs to recognise the importance of investment in public services, genuinely affordable housing, and a fairly shared recovery. Without that commitment, he will still be remembered as the butcher and not the builder he says he wants to be.’
The lesson from the obvious bankruptcy of the TUC leadership, and the TUC leader, is that the workers of the UK need a new and revolutionary leadership, one that is prepared to call a general strike to bring down the government and go forward to a workers government and socialism.
Only the WRP is building this kind of leadership. Workers who are serious about the struggle to bring down the Tories should join the WRP at once.