Loud cheers erupted in the Commons today as Rishi Sunak gleefully reported that all UK merchant ships could now proudly fly the red ensign instead of the old EU flag. How marvellous. “At least there will be a red flag flying somewhere,” he quipped.
Labour shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said Rishi Sunak “was living in a parallel universe,” and she wasn’t wrong – he clearly has no idea what it’s like to be a low wage earner. Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, called it right when she said, pre-Budget, that she feared workers would pay the price of the pandemic. It certainly looks that way. And realistically the best chance workers will have of getting a proper pay rise is through joining Unite.
It appears that unless you’re one of the wealthy the government just doesn’t care. All most of us will gain from this budget are massive tax hikes, rising inflation, with just a pathetic sop of an increase in the minimum wage – the miniscule benefit of which is all lost when you factor in the massive tax hikes, rising inflation – you get my drift.
But don’t worry – working class Prosecco lovers can toast the Chancellor’s alcohol tax changes (more avid cheering) at a saving of about 10p a glass; or Stella Artois and fruit cider (isn’t all cider made from fruit?) drinkers can look forward to hoarding away a massive 3p or 13p a pint respectively.
While you’re considering what you’ll do with all your pennies saved in the pub, remember with those steep tax hikes, rising inflation, gas and electricity costs etc etc, for most of us it’s going to be a very hard winter. Will the Chancellor still be smiling and cheering then? Probably.
Budget highlights from the horse’s mouth
“Today’s Budget delivers a stronger economy for the British people: stronger growth, with the UK economy recovering faster than our major competitors. Stronger public finances, with our national debt finally under control. Stronger employment, with fewer people out of work and more people in work. Growth up, jobs up, and debt down: let there be no doubt – our plan is working.”
“To ensure that work pays, the government is increasing the National Living Wage to £9.50 from April 2022, cutting the Universal Credit taper rate from 63p to 55p and increasing Universal Credit work allowances by £500 per year.
“Freezing fuel duty and duty rates on alcohol will help hard-working people to keep more of what they earn, while the alcohol duty system will be overhauled to make it fairer and more straightforward.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP
On low pay/BAEM workers – ‘Especially difficult for BAEM workers’
“All the Chancellor has done is give with one hand and take with the other. Universal Credit taper rate is cut by 8 per cent and the minimum wage increases by 6 per cent; inflation is expected to increase to increase rise above 4 per cent and National Insurance to rise by 1.5 per cent. How will this possibly benefit low paid workers?
“He’s recycling and playing around with the economy with no benefit to, but more hardship on the low earners. As many low paid workers are from BAEM communities I believe this will be especially difficult for them.”
Harish Patel, Unite national equalities officer
On hospitality – ‘Budget offers little to hospitality workers’
Yet again, this is a budget for hospitality businesses and employers that offers very little to the workforce that have kept the sector alive during the pandemic. The proposed minimum wage increase is still woefully inadequate, particularly given the lack of action on tips (at least until 2022) which has seen workers losing thousands in take-home income. It’s quite clear that this Government remains determined to make the lowest paid workers pay for this pandemic.”
Bryan Simpson, Unite hospitality organiser
On lorry drivers – ‘This is no silver bullet’
“Rishi Sunak did announce funding for lorry parks – but in reality this will just be to line the private sector providers’ pockets. We need publicly funded and fully maintained lorry parking. It can take around four years to get a proper truck stop agreed and built, so it might sound good but this is no silver bullet.”
Adrian Jones, Unite national officer, road transport
On local government – ‘Rubbing salt in the wounds’
“Local government workers have worked tirelessly protecting and sustaining our communities during the pandemic, the hollow words of the Chancellor do not have any credibility with our members who have seen real terms pay cuts of 22 per cent over the last 11 years.
“To rub salt into the wounds, council workers are facing another real terms pay cut this year and all that is on offer is more austerity, its little wonder that council workers are saying enough is enough.”
Jim Kennedy, Unite national officer, local government
On NHS workers – ‘Jam tomorrow’
“With inflation projected at 4 per cent this Budget is a real blow for workers in the NHS and wider health sector, many of whom must rely on miserly increases in the national minimum wage to try and make ends meet, as they endure yet another year of a public sector pay freeze. The promise of jam tomorrow does not pay the bills today!”
Jackie Williams, Unite national officer, NHS
‘A big slap in the face’
“This budget is a disgrace, an insult and full of excuses. To hear all this from a Chancellor and Prime Minister who have a very comfortable lifestyle and have absolutely no concept of going without or making do, just beggars belief.
“They continue to fail to understand concepts of hunger and cold. This is yet another failure by this incompetent government and is the equivalent to a big slap in the face for the poor, working poor and hard working families trying to keep their heads above water.”
Grace Davies* – Unite rep, East London Health Sector
‘Never has a Chancellor asked the people to pay so much for so little’
“This Budget makes the Chancellor’s out-of-touch priorities clear. As he hits working people with the highest sustained tax burden in peacetime, he’s giving a tax cut to bankers who like to take short haul flights while sipping champagne.
“After taking £6bn out of the pockets of some of the poorest people in this country, he is expecting them to cheer today at being given £2bn to compensate.
“In the long story of this Parliament, never has a Chancellor asked the British people to pay so much for so little, loading the burden on working people with tax rises and wasting billions of pounds of taxpayer money.”
Rachel Reeves MP, shadow Chancellor
Minimum wage ‘increase’ worth less than claimed
“Again the Chancellor is claiming the increase in minimum wage is worth £1,000 to a full time worker. It’s worth about £700 after tax and NI, and less than £300 to anyone on Universal Credit.”
Paul Johnson, Institute for Fiscal Studies
“And worth noting that the 55 per cent Universal Credit taper rate is 10 points higher than the tax rate on earnings over £150,000.”
George Eaton, journalist
‘Pay freeze to pay squeeze’
“The Chancellor has gone from pay freeze to pay squeeze. He’s admitted that we’ll have ‘zero’ pay growth across the economy next year. And he has no plan to get wages rising – average real pay growth over the next four years is predicted to be just 0.3 per cent.”
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary
‘Stealing from the pockets of working people’
“The minimum wage uplift will soon be sucked up by rising inflation by rising inflation, National Insurance increade and removal of £20 Universal Credit uplift. The reduction in the Universal Credit taper will help some, but not all. The Chancellor is still stealing £4bn from the pockets of working people while cutting taxes on banks and while companies like Amazon pile up the profits without paying fair taxes.”
Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary
Last words – Tories’ great ideas
“Great idea from the Tories to build football pitches to replace the ones the Tories sold off.
And to build early years centres to replace the ones the Tories closed. And to build prisons and employ new nurses and doctors to replace the ones the Tories cut. Etc etc.”
David Schneider, writer and actor
*name changed to protect privacy
Comment by Amanda Campbell, UNITElive editor
Watch our exclusive video on one NHS’ workers pay rise – up next