Last week’s budget made something of a departure from the austerity that shaped the last decade of Tory policy, with commitments of greater funding across the public sector, however, it offers nothing to fundamentally better the lives of British workers in the face of rising prices, wage stagnation and cuts to Universal Credit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new budget boasted the “largest real term increase in overall departmental spending” this century, with a spending increase of 3.8% across all government departments. While this is certainly an improvement on the cuts of previous years, only the NHS, Home Office and Department of Education will see daily real-term spending at a higher level than 2010. Every other department is still worse-off than they were at the start of last decade.
Regarding this boost of funding for the NHS, even with the government putting forward an extra £5.9 billion to the health service, this can only do so much unless the shortage of doctors and nurses is addressed. The British Medical Association estimates a shortage of 49,000 full-time equivalent doctors and doctors-in-training across England alone. Ensuring proper pay for NHS staff would go a long way in fighting such a shortage.
The government offered a mere 3% pay award to health workers this year, which Unite’s health sector members rejected as “grossly inadequate”, demanding a more substantial 15% offer. Additionally, the £4.7 billion pounds to go towards education is not even a third of the £15 billion advised in the report produced by the government’s former education recovery minister.
As it stands, the increased financial support for the public sector will not manifest in significantly improved conditions or pay for public workers. In fact, British workers will be facing higher prices, especially with the rise in gas and energy costs, leaving many worse off without significant pay increase.
The budget has done little for those who rely on Universal Credit either. The government are reducing the Universal Credit taper from 63% to 55%, which do something to alleviate the harm of the £20 cut to Universal Credit for some – but only for some. The change in the taper means that now Universal Credit is only cut by 55p for every £1 over a certain earnings threshold. Of the 5.5 million hit by the cut, only 1.9 million will see benefit from the reduced taper. This comes at a time when the government are cutting taxes for banks by £1 billion, apparently so as to foster “competitiveness”. If the government can afford to collect less tax from the banks, they certainly could afford to continue paying the higher level of Universal Credit as well as reducing the taper, and actually do something to help the millions of Brits relying on Universal Credit.
From the Tories’ new budget, we have seen how the government will continue to undervalue and underpay public sector workers. Just because the Tories are putting more money towards the public sector than there has been in a long time, does not mean they are implementing the necessary policies to ensure well-paid jobs in adequate schools, health centres, social services, and other key services.
Additionally, the government are letting down the 5.5 million Brits who rely on Universal Credit, despite the fact they can clearly afford to establish sufficient support for these citizens, particularly important with the spike in energy bills.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch