As the Tories continue to wilfully ignore the devastation their policies are wreaking on our society and people’s lives, there was perhaps no choice for them but to downplay the spring statement. A full budget, as in Autumn, would again simply highlight the preservation of policies that serve only the very wealthiest, and the lack of action taken on behalf of the millions who have seen cuts in their quality of life.
Average wage growth remains ‘subdued’ according to the OBR. While the government tried to make a show of announcing increases in the projections for headline GDP and employment, there is a hollowness to these figures – a fragility that is exposed as soon as there is any meaningful discussion about the future of this country, of our economy, of people’s lives.
The wealth and growth that does exist is not being shared across the country or with the overwhelming majority of the population. And growth is expected to fall below 2 per cent in every forecast year.
When Philip Hammond says the move to one fiscal statement each year reduces the uncertainty faced by families, he exposes his tin ear (or indifference) to the anxiety that gnaws away as real wages continue to be lower than in 2010.This is the uncertainty that is faced daily as record numbers of working people in poverty struggle.
Recent research by CLASS found that over a third of all workers are not making enough to keep up with the basic cost of living. Nearly a million people are on zero hours contracts and 3 million rely on insecure work – a growth in uncertainty over what you will earn day to day, which has been actively nurtured by this and previous Conservative governments through their attacks on trade unions. It is over 600 days since the government closed its consultation on ensuring that hospitality workers receive fair tips, with those workers still waiting to hear what action government will take.
These weren’t figures read out by Philip Hammond, but they paint a truer picture of what is happening in this country – and if there is something to agree with this government on, this truly is ‘a remarkable jobs story’.
This is before we even turn to this government’s mishandling of Brexit negotiations, to highlight that government investment remains below 2010 levels and, in the words of John McDonnell, the use of councils as “human shields” as cuts to our public and local services erode our social fabric. The workers who deliver these public services have faced spiralling workloads as colleagues are made redundant and have suffered dramatic real pay cuts.
When even Conservative councils are saying they cannot safely provide their statutory provision in children’s services, there is an urgent need for action. When our industrial base continues to be picked apart and threatened with dismemberment by predatory companies, and businesses are putting investment decisions on hold, there is a need for urgent action.
What the spring statement amounted to was confirmation that under the Conservatives people will have to keep working harder to get poorer, there will be no injection of investment to upgrade our economy, no end to our NHS, education and local services being cut to ribbons.
The Chancellor could have used his time at the dispatch box to call a halt to the hostile takeover of GKN – it would have cost nothing and brought immediate relief to our members. Yet again, there was no action.
The main announcement from the government was that yet again they will not be taking the action this country needs – but instead continue their destructive policies.
Steve Turner is assistant general secretary of Unite.
This piece was commissioned by guest editor Diane Abbott.