Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget today (March 3) fell short of what was needed to rebuild the economy and protect people’s jobs, health and incomes, Unite warned.
In his statement, Sunak confirmed extension of the furlough scheme, where the government covers 80 per cent of wages for those who cannot work their full hours, until the end of September.
From July, businesses will be expected to contribute 10 per cent to the furlough scheme, and will be asked to contribute 20 per cent in August and September.
Although welcomed by Unite, the union highlighted that the furlough scheme should remain in place until next year.
Commenting, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Although still short of the support provided by competitor nations, these extra months of furlough support offer some stability in the rocky months ahead.
“We’ll keep looking for an extension to 2022 because there is still tremendous uncertainty out there,” he added.
“We also urge the chancellor to do more to repair the economic conditions further by stabilising household incomes.
“Furloughed workers have been living with a twenty per cent cut in their wages for the best part of a year now, amassing hefty debts. This will need to be addressed by government because depressed incomes will hold back the recovery, further cementing inequality.”
Sunak also announced an extension of the Universal Credit uplift until the end of September, leaving millions of struggling families with yet more uncertainty once the cliff-edge comes in six months’ time.
Fears not allayed
Commenting, Unite Community national co-ordinator Liane Groves said, “The Universal Credit increase for a further six months doesn’t allay the fears families will have going in to next winter.
“This £20 increase to UC should be made permanent and paid to all claimants and the fact the government have discriminated against disabled by refusing to give them the increase is completely unacceptable,” she added.
“Claimants will now be worrying how they will feed their kids and heat their homes, pay for warm coats and shoes. This is a cynical move by Sunak to kick the cut down the road and will hit families hard.”
While Sunak announced an increase in the minimum wage to £8.91 an hour, this is still significantly below the real Living Wage of £9.50 and less than the £10 an hour that Unite and other unions have called for.
There was no mention of extra funding at all for the NHS and social care, a move that Labour leader Keir Starmer slammed.
“We went into this crisis with 100,000 unfilled posts in the NHS and where social care was ignored and underfunded for a decade,” he said in his response to the chancellor.
“Members Opposite voted for all of that. Today’s Budget doesn’t even recognise that – let alone rectify it.”
A much-deserved pay rise for health and other public sector workers was not mentioned at all in the Budget in yet another failure to award key workers who have helped get the nation through crisis.
Unite has also raised concerns about the chancellor’s announcement on freeports. Sunak said the UK would establish eight freeports in various parts of the country, including Liverpool, Humber region, and Plymouth, among others, where goods from abroad won’t be subject to tariffs.
Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said, “Unite is calling for a strong union voice in freeports – a future economy must be about building back better.
Unite ‘very concerned’
“We are very concerned that the current proposals for freeports will undermine or simply relocate existing high quality decent jobs and exacerbate rather than reduce inequalities,” she added.
“We strongly support a sustainable future economy which levels up between regions and invests in infrastructure, new decent jobs and high quality training and apprenticeships. The proposals as currently set out will not achieve these vital objectives.”
Stay tuned to UNITElive for more reactions to the Budget later…
By Hajera Blagg