In its prebudget statement, the government last week claimed it planned to squeeze the rich in an effort to boost income, and spare “core” public services from any serious cuts. In reality, Chancellor Alistair Darling declared war on working people on a scale not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government in the 1980s. Darling wants to cut £47 billion from public spending over the next four years—and the true scale of the assault could be much higher. As the chancellor announced his plans, the Tories rubbed their hands with glee, knowing he had opened the door to even more savage slashing if they come to power next year. Public services will face brutal cuts. The Financial Times newspaper estimates that, excepting police, hospitals and schools, most will face a 14 percent spending reduction over three years; that will mean hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost.
Even the so-called ring fenced services, such as the NHS, are to feel the pain. The government wants to slash an astonishing £20 billion from the health service. And, as the government measure of inflation rose to 1.9 percent, Darling declared that six million public sector workers will have their pay and pension “rises” capped at 1 percent from 2011. Working people will also be hit hardest by the rise in VAT to 17.5 percent on 1 January, as the tax takes no account of income. The government claims that its increases to National Insurance contributions will only affect the well off. The reality is that everyone who earns more than £20,000 a year will lose out. David Phillips, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, points out, “National Insurance is, ultimately, paid by workers. In the short-term, bosses might take on the cost themselves. But, in the long-term, employers will cut gross pay.”
The response of the union leaders to this assault is mixed. Unite’s joint general secretary Derek Simpson said, “When it comes to a choice at the next election voters will reflect on who acted to save jobs, protect our services and build a fairer future.” If the choice is reduced to Labour’s pay cap or the Tories’ pay freeze then it is no choice at all. Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, was more outspoken. He said, “I am not going to sign up to this. It is just not on to make nurses, social workers, dinner ladies, cleaners and hospital porters pay the price for the folly of the bankers. The people who earn most should pay the most.” We need immense pressure on the union leaders to get them to actively campaign for, and to organise, action to defend jobs and living standards. That means that every service threatened by cuts must be defended by the most militant means possible. If the axe falls on your local library, organising a community sit-in that involves workers and service users could save it. If council bosses shut your child’s nursery, occupying the building is one of the few weapons capable of making them change their minds. Now it’s up to us all to ensure that working people aren’t made to pay for their crisis.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.