Chancellor's Autumn Statement is 'new austerity budget'

Unite: Workers won’t pay for austerity based on political choices and arbitrary fiscal rules

Reading time: 4 min

The chancellor’s Autumn Statement is a new austerity budget, hitting ordinary working people with stealth taxes and public service freezes, while protecting the profits of big corporations and the wealth of the one per cent.

The chancellor is making clear choices. He is pursuing an arbitrary “fiscal hole” – not an economic law, but a political choice. Though the prime minister has changed, the Conservative party is still in a panic: flailing wildly from enormous tax cuts to tax rises.

He is choosing to risk crashing the economy because of fears about the financial markets. But there is enormous uncertainty about how much borrowing should be reduced. What is certain are the costs of austerity: which even many investment fund managers are now cautioning against. The government is repeating George Osborne’s mistakes.

The real black hole is in the NHS budget: the head of NHS England has said it could be £7 billion short next year. This is a direct result of austerity: over the last decade the UK has spent 20 per cent less on healthcarethan similar European countries. The outcome is a staffing crisis, pushing out the emergency workers who got the country through the pandemic. Today’s announcement is nowhere near enough to address under-investment, and implies continuing real terms pay cuts.

Instead of hitting wages with stealth taxes, the chancellor could have chosen to tax hoarded wealth and excessive profits. The wealth of UK billionaires grew by 22 per cent over the pandemic. The Treasury has estimated that energy companies will make £170 billion in “excess profits” over the next two years – the announced windfall taxes will barely touch the sides. Unite research has shown that profiteering is not just in energy: In 2021 average profit margins of the big FTSE 350 companies were up 73 per cent compared with 2019. Supermarkets, food producers, shipping giants and the banks have all been raising prices and making windfalls.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Our economy is broken. This Autumn Statement is not for working people. The chancellor has taxed income over wealth, backed City bankers instead of nurses and chosen profiteers over public services. He has made political choices based on rules that he himself has the power to change.

“As for the Labour Party, they appear to have accepted the economic premise of the black hole rather than challenge it,” she added. “That is a mistake.

“We are stuck in an economic straight-jacket. Our political class repackage the same failed approach crisis after crisis, choosing to put a sticking plaster on a wound that needs surgery,” Graham went on to say. “In a country where the wealth of billionaires rockets whilst pay is cut and the gap between the super-rich and the rest grows, we need do more than appease the markets.

“Austerity and tax rises for workers will do nothing to create decent jobs or put money in our pockets. As a country, we must now begin a discussion on how to do things differently. We need different rules and to make different choices. We need an economy that works for all.”

By UniteLive team