In the Autumn Statement George Osborne and the Coalition Government had yet another opportunity to implement an economic policy that could do some real good for people across the country.
They could have chosen to introduce changes to the tax system and cut unnecessary spending to rebalance the disastrous economic decisions they have made over the last two and a half years, giving hope to millions of people across the country that our future isn’t built upon austerity and belt-tightening – but growth and prosperity instead.
But they didn’t. They stuck to their guns. No alternative, no ‘plan B’.
No shift in public spending (such as reductions in the Cold War levels of defence spending) to remove the threat of redundancy that hangs over hundreds of thousands of public service workers who worry every day that they will join half a million of their colleagues who have lost their jobs already.
No ending of tax reliefs for the wealthy (like corporation tax relief on pay and bonuses) or introduction of more redistributive forms of taxation (like reintroducing the 50% tax rate) that could bring to an end the ludicrous pay freeze that takes money out of the pockets of the people who empty our bins, look after our elderly relatives and help young children to read and write.
There was no change to the plan to cut funding public services, like the huge 28% cut in local government funding that has seen Sure Start centres and libraries close, adult social care services withdrawn and public transport schemes scrapped. No endorsement of the principle that the wealthiest should help the most vulnerable, that “we are all in this together” and that people who earn the most should contribute the most through higher taxes for the richest, including on bankers’ bonuses.
A solid plan for growing the economy out of the financial crisis was also missing – whether ‘plan B’ or not. The £23bn interest paid on Quantitative Easing purchases will be used to reduce the deficit. But the Government could have been bolder and funded a programme of infrastructure investment, creating thousands of affordable homes, improving roads, building high-speed rail and dealing with our energy insecurity with the construction of renewable energy projects. This would have generated future revenue and productivity that could have helped reduce the nation’s debts long into the future, rather than acting as a short-term dog whistle for Conservative activists on cuts.
We will have to wait to see how new rules to address tax havens and tax avoidance will work out (particularly as despite some new money, cuts to HMRC have seen the number of staff working on these cases significantly reduced), but it’s a shame that there is no detail about what could happen with the money raised. Tackling aggressive tax avoidance schemes could fund a national legacy that we could all be proud of, generating the £10bn needed to solve the UK’s growing care crisis through the creation of a new, free of charge, national care service.
UNISON, alongside the Labour Party and many other campaigning organisations, has consistently called for the Government to ditch this damaging austerity programme – bringing together an alternative that sets out where the Government can raise new revenue and cut current spending. But in rejecting the need for an alternative we still face an economic emergency and a triple dip recession in 2013.
The deeper cuts in the Autumn Statement will fuel work force instability and lack of consumer confidence, only worsening the UK’s economic future.
Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of Unison