Workers safety net will be destroyed by cuts says TUC

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Anti-austerity protest against benefit cuts in Lambeth on Sunday
Anti-austerity protest against benefit cuts in Lambeth on Sunday

CHANCELLOR Osborne’s welfare cuts will hit the safety net for workers, warned the TUC last Friday.

It was commenting on the Chancellor’s comment at the Treasury Select Committee on Thursday, that he planned to cut an extra £12bn a year from the welfare and benefits bill.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The Chancellor now says that he will cut £12bn more out of the welfare and benefits bill.

‘But this scale of cuts can only be made by removing parts of the safety net that we all rely on.

‘Even if he completely abolished Jobseekers’ Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Statutory Maternity Pay, Industrial Injuries Benefit and Carer’s Allowance, as well as ending all benefit fraud, he would still fail to meet his target.

‘The £12bn the Chancellor plans to find is 10 times the government’s own estimate of benefit fraud.

‘Even if he eliminated all fraud – something the government has completely failed to do so far – he would still need to make more than £10bn worth of cuts.

‘Of course we should deal with abuse in the system but hard-working people make national insurance contributions to cover themselves against the costs of losing their job, having a baby or having an accident at work.

‘This scale of cuts cannot be achieved without destroying the safety net that anyone at work might need.’

The TUC noted that the Department for Work and Pensions’ most recent benefit expenditure tables show how much the government is currently forecast to spend on different elements of social security.

TUC analysis shows that even if the Chancellor abolished most of the safety net he would fail to meet the £12bn of annual welfare cuts the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has assessed will be necessary by 2018/19.

The DWP social security expenditure forecast for 2018/19 is: Carer’s Allowance £2.85bn; Jobseeker’s Allowance £3.77bn; Maternity Allowance £0.47bn; Statutory Maternity Pay £2.68bn; Industrial injuries benefits £0.90bn; Total fraud £1.2bn; Overall Total £11.87bn.

A commentary from Paul Johnson of the IFS on the £12bn of extra cuts needed by 2018/19 said: ‘Let’s not forget the scale of the cuts in spending still to come.

‘By the end of 2013-14 DELs (that’s Whitehall spending on public services) will have been cut by just over eight per cent.

‘Absent further welfare cuts, or tax increases, plans to 2018-19 now imply cuts of more than 20 per cent in total public service spending.

‘This would actually imply an acceleration in the rate of public service spending cuts – from 2.3 per cent a year between April 2011 and March 2016, to 3.7 per cent a year between April 2016 and March 2019.

‘Simply to avoid such an acceleration in three cuts in this kind of spending would require cuts in welfare (or other AME) spending of a further £12bn a year by 2018-19.’

Earlier, the TUC expressed concern over the latest annual pay statistics published last Thursday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which show that the full-time gender pay gap increased to 15.7 per cent in 2013 (up from 14.8 per cent the year before).

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This year has seen a shock rise in the gender pay gap after years of slow, steady progress.

‘Ministers should be ashamed of presiding over this latest dismal record on pay.

‘It is not right that in Britain today women still earn 15 per cent less per hour than men, a pay gap that costs full-time women over £5,000 a year.

‘The UK’s five million women part-time workers are faring even worse on pay, with two in five now earning less than the living wage.

‘The light touch, voluntary approach to tackling gender pay inequality is clearly failing. We need tougher action to force companies to look at their pay gaps.

‘The government can lead the way by making all new public sector vacancies available on a part-time or flexible basis, so that women don’t have to trade down jobs if they need to work fewer hours to balance their career with caring responsibilities.’

The TUC has calculated the gender pay gap by comparing the mean hourly pay, excluding overtime, of full-time men and women.

Mean hourly full-time pay for men is £16.91 an hour, and £14.25 for women. This hourly pay gap of £2.66 adds up to £5,187 over the course of a year for a full-time worker.

The gender pay gap using median hourly earnings also increased from 9.5 per cent to ten per cent.

• The latest TUC Hazards magazine highlights anger over insufficient asbestos compensation.

Lawyers for people suffering from an always fatal asbestos cancer have said a new compensation scheme is not good enough.

The criticism came as the government published details of a scheme it says will award over £350 million over ten years to around 3,000 mesothelioma victims across the UK who have been prevented from claiming compensation because they cannot trace a liable employer or an employers’ liability insurer.

But lawyers representing victims of asbestos-related diseases have urged the government to urgently rethink a scheme that would mean those eligible missing out on up to £43,000 of vital funds for care and support.

The provisions in the Mesothelioma Bill, which disability minister Mike Penning admitted in the Commons on 2 December were ‘not perfect’, will allow claimants to receive around 75 per cent of the average amount paid out in civil damages.

Critics say that eligibility rules mean thousands of others affected by asbestos-related disease will miss out on even these cut-price payouts.

Adrian Budgen of the law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘The aim of this legislation should be to introduce the right scheme to help victims of asbestos-related disease – something that will simply not be achieved by the “better than nothing” approach which is seemingly being taken.’

He added that ‘the scheme would only apply to victims diagnosed with mesothelioma from 25 July 2012, meaning many more sufferers would be missing out on the support they need and deserve . ..

‘We would urge ministers to seriously consider a rethink on the plans to make sure they get the right proposals in place as soon as possible.’

Hazards also highlighted junior doctors hours.

Scottish health secretary Alex Neil has come under pressure to review junior doctors’ working hours following the tragic case of Dr Lauren Connelly, who died driving home after a hospital night shift.

Dr Connelly, 23, was involved in a fatal crash in September 2011 returning from Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock.

Her father, Brian Connelly, believes she was fatigued after six weeks of extremely long hours and wants an overhaul of the system and has received support from opposition politicians.

Evidence appears to support his call. In 2005 the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health warned junior medics working long shifts were twice as likely to be involved in a car accident leaving work.

They were also five time more likely to have a ‘near miss’ than colleagues on shorter hours.

A 2006 UK study of 1,619 junior doctors by the former Royal College of Physicians vice president Professor Roy Pounder found one in six had had a traffic accident on the work commute.

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Neil Findlay said: ‘Health boards have a duty to their staff to provide safe and fair working conditions and scheduling newly qualified junior doctors to work 90 plus hours in a week is a failure of that duty.’

He added: ‘Even if they are complying with the letter of the law by averaging out hours across a number of weeks it is still not reasonable to require anyone to work excessively day after day, week after week.

‘It seems clear that the system we have is broken and health boards and the Scottish government must find a way to fix it.’

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Jim Hume MSP also called for a review. A spokesperson for BMA Scotland said shifts patterns including 90-hour weeks were ‘not in the spirit’ of working time rules.