Unions Condemn Budget As A ‘Provocation!’

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FBU – fighting a massive attack on firefighter pensions
FBU – fighting a massive attack on firefighter pensions

Unions have condemned the Chancellor’s 2014 austerity Budget with Unison calling it a ‘clear provocation’, the NUT saying it was ‘more of the same’ and the GMB stating that it reeked ‘of the stuck-up complacency of the well-heeled elite’.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the Budget as: ‘A pre-election Budget, with its give-aways aimed at the better-off rather than lifting the living standards of the many.

‘It will be paid for by further years of austerity, public services brought to near collapse, public sector pay cuts and a welfare cap that bites into the safety net that any of us might need.

‘There was nothing for the young who continue to face the worst job market in decades and unaffordable housing. Nor was there any relief for low and middle earners who, after years of falling living standards, have no spare cash to take advantage of the help for savers, and who now face year-on-year cuts in benefits for working families as the welfare cap bites.

‘The best news for the long-term health of the economy is the genuine help for manufacturing, but it was the exception in this highly political short-term Budget that continued the Chancellor’s project to shrink the state and help the rich.’

Unions were quick to slam the budget with the PCS saying that in the face of falling wages and rising costs a pay rise was needed.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘Living standards continue to fall under this government, with billions of pounds taken out of workers’ wages and cut from social security, while bankers enjoy massive bonuses. The rise of foodbanks and the prevalence of payday loan sharks show the economy is not improving for everyone.’

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘The Chancellor has run out of time and ideas. His claims that people are feeling the benefits of his austerity agenda are wearing thin. The public are not fooled, they know that the gap between the rich and poor is dividing society.

‘They know that their pay has failed to keep pace with the rising cost of everyday essentials such as food and fuel and they know that fears over job stability are making them fearful for the future and the future of their families.

‘Unison members will see through the Chancellor’s Budget for what it means – at least another four years of pain for little gain. Hundreds and thousands of public service workers have lost their jobs since the Coalition came to power and Osborne has signalled more cuts to come and their hard-saved pensions under threat again. For those that remain, their pay has been frozen and its value cut between 10% and 18% since 2010.’

Referring to the government pay cap for local government, education and NHS workers, Prentis said: ‘Not lifting that cap in the Budget today is a clear provocation and they will feel the backlash from nurses, homecare workers, paramedics, therapists, librarians, social workers, teaching assistants and many more. Public service workers don’t care about the shape of the £1 coin – they would just like to see more of them in their pockets.’

Prentis went on to say: ‘Osborne’s sleight of hand over tax changes will do little to close the gap between the haves and have nots. Those on higher incomes are the majority beneficiaries of such a move, while the low-paid stand to lose through cuts to universal credit and/or council tax support. At a time when the cost of living is increasing, the Government has targeted cuts in spending at the poorest by reducing social security payments whilst offering cuts in tax rates for the most wealthy.’

Dr Mark Porter, Chair of the BMA Council, said: ‘Despite claiming the economy is on the up, today’s budget does nothing to address the crippling funding shortfall in the NHS.

‘While the government claims the NHS budget is protected, in reality it’s suffered £20bn of cuts, billions of which have come from a sustained attack on staff pay. If growth forecasts are rising, it’s even more shameful that the Government won’t even agree to a one per cent uplift, as recommended by an independent pay review body, for all front-line NHS staff.

‘Doctors and other staff face increasingly challenging, high-pressured and stressful work environments. Cuts to budgets and rising workloads are leading to a recruitment and retention crisis in many parts of the NHS, and we’re already seeing the effect of this on emergency medicine. The announcement by the Chancellor to continue with pay restraint and more public sector cuts, if re-elected in the next parliament, will only compound this.

‘If, as the Chancellor has said, growth is higher than expected then the Government needs to consider additional funding for the NHS. Without the investment needed to meet rising patient demand and put the NHS on a sustainable financial footing the government need to face up to the reality that patient care, and indeed the very future of the NHS, will be at risk.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT said: ‘For many people already suffering from the Government’s austerity measures the prospect of more of the same will be greeted with great dismay and genuine concern.

‘Teachers are seeing more children coming to school hungry and there is a disturbing rise in the use of food banks. Reductions in education funding have led to cuts in provision such as breakfast and after-school clubs, music lessons, SEN support and the Education Maintenance Allowance which helped students stay on in education.

‘The half a million teachers in this country will find little to welcome either – their pay is worth less, they are working longer hours and they can expect lower pensions when they retire. The tax break announced for childcare may be welcome but with thousands of childcare centres closing, many of the most vulnerable children will not be able to take advantage of free early years provision.’

Paul Kenny GMB general secretary said ‘This budget reeks of the stuck-up complacency of the well-heeled elite. Osborne claims that the economy will get back to pre-recession levels this year is sadly not the case. GDP per head is still 5.7% down on 2007 and the real value of average earnings is also down 13.8%.

‘There is a very long way to go to get living standards for the vast majority of workers back to pre-recession levels. The budget is doing very little to get the 912,000 unemployed aged 16-24 into proper jobs. As some 246,000 have been out of work for over a year there is a grave danger of seeing a lost generation.’

The FBU (Fire Brigades’ Union) called the Budget’s cut to inheritance tax for emergency service workers killed on duty a gimmick, with general secretary Mack Mrack saying: ‘Inheritance tax only applies to those leaving more than £325,000, so it is hard to assess how many would actually benefit. Meanwhile, the families of all firefighters, including those killed at work, will be worse off as a result of government attacks on our pensions.’

The UCU meanwhile welcomed the Budget provison for more apprenticeship grants and the development of graduate-level apprenticeships saying however, that proper funding was required if the policy was to succeed. The UCU called for better pay for apprentices, who are legally paid as little as £2.68 an hour, and said it wanted to see longer apprenticeships with a minimum of three years placement.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Apprentices should receive the national minimum wage, not less than £3 an hour as they can currently be paid.’

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: ‘Ordinary people will be asking themselves are they better off? The simple answer is no. This was a blue rinse budget for the stockbroker belt who will celebrate their tax reductions and help with their savings.

‘The £56 a year that basic rate taxpayers will get through changes to tax allowances is a pittance. It will do nothing to help low-paid workers in the grip of a wage siege, nor will it help the 4.6 million people whose pay is so low they don’t pay tax.’

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, commented on one of the items in the Budget saying raising the personal allowance ‘may appear a positive move’, but ‘for hundreds of thousands of working families that depend on housing benefit to top up their meagre earnings, this will gain them very little’. He added: ‘The vast majority of this will be deducted from their benefits, giving with one hand while taking with the other.’

Economists also have stinging criticisms of the Budget with James Meadway, Senior Economist at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), saying: ‘Today’s Budget was more of the same from George Osborne. For all his bragging about growth, his deficit reduction plan is £46bn behind where he said it would be in 2010. This growth means nothing when real earnings for most, allowing for inflation, have fallen every year since 2010. Four out of five new jobs created since then are in low-paid sectors, and 80% of new jobs are in London.

‘Osborne has once again concentrated on handouts for the least deserving. While the grinding programme of spending cuts continues, including a permanent welfare cap, big businesses will get tax breaks. And after imposing 20% cuts to flood defences, Osborne’s £140m of new cash is still far short of the £500m the government’s own Committee on Climate Change thinks is needed.’

With all of these attacks aimed at workers and their families in a budget that is committed to continuing austerity despite union leaders’ protests, perhaps it is time that unions take a leaf out of the Prison Officers Association’s book and listen to their members by demanding that the TUC call a General Strike to bring this hated government down.