How trade unions responded to the 2020 Budget

Elliot Chappell

Trade unions have reacted to the Budget announced by Rishi Sunak today, including measures to help the NHS and wider economy amid the coronavirus outbreak and spending on infrastructure.

The wider labour movement has raised concerns particularly around how the government response to coronavirus does not go far enough and could leave millions of workers without adequate pay or support.

The unions have stated that the low level of statutory sick pay, at £18 per day, remains a problem, and pointed out that beyond the NHS the Budget did little to support the social care sector and local government.

General secretaries also spoke about the longer-term plans outlined by the government, saying that the investment was “long overdue” and that the Budget demonstrated how austerity had always been an “ideological choice”.

On coronavirus…

General secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s coronavirus plans will leave millions of workers behind. Without urgent action, too many will be plunged into poverty and debt.

“Today’s announcements won’t help the nearly two million people who miss out on sick pay because they don’t earn enough. Telling them to turn to the broken benefits system isn’t good enough. We need decent sick pay for all.”

The Chancellor’s announcement included a promise that the government would make it easier for claimants to apply for benefits during the period that the virus affects the country.

O’Grady added: “Ministers must now urgently bring together unions and employers to talk about how to support jobs, including through wage subsidies for short-time working schemes, and further help for public services – especially social care.”

The GMB said: “There’s nowhere near enough in the the Budget to help working people who have to self-isolate – the government can dress it up however they want.

The union highlighted the low level of sick pay: “£18 per day, no-one can live on that, and that’s what the government seem to expect the 20% of the population who may have to self-isolate to do. If it’s possible, let’s see ministers do it.”

Similarly, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Workers across the country will be relieved they’ll get sick pay or immediate access to universal credit should they fall ill or have to stay at home. But many will still worry how they’ll make ends meet on current statutory sick pay rates.”

Prentis welcomed the “blank cheque to ease the NHS through the virus” offered by Sunak, but pointed out that “social care and local councils barely got a mention”.

Unite the Union tweeted shortly after the Budget was announced, and said that the way the government was prioritising COVID-19 was “making businesses – not workers – immune”.

On long-term investment…

O’Grady of the TUC said: “This spending U-turn is badly overdue. The priority now must be to repair the damage of ten years of Tory devastation. Helping working families and rebuilding public services must come first. And we need to see concrete action on the challenges of the future.

“This means banning zero-hours contracts, sorting social care, ending the UK’s dire regional inequalities, setting out a credible plan to achieve net zero, and getting an EU trade deal that supports jobs and workers across the UK.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes called it a “ten wasted years Budget”, and said that the “claim made by Sunak that the Tories are the party of the workers is beyond parody”.

Cortes added: “The Chancellor barely mentioned our railways and in fact seemed pleased as punch about a whole raft of measures encouraging travel by road – hardly what we need in a climate crisis.

“As ever the devil will be in the detail of this Budget, but I wouldn’t trust a Tory Chancellor as far as I could throw one.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This budget is a slap in the face to our members who are delivering Brexit, working in job centres, helping to secure our borders and those collecting tax.

He added: “Promises of investment in public services do not make up for a decade of austerity which has created misery and hardship for the low paid and vulnerable. Despite the Chancellor’s ludicrous claims to the contrary, the Conservative Party remains the party of big business.”

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, focussed on how the Budget addressed flooding and fire safety, as you would expect. He pointed out that the Budget has not ended a decade of pay restraint for firefighters, nor underfunding of the fire and rescue service.

“The government has finally recognised that they did not provide sufficient funding to keep people safe after Grenfell and that the building safety crisis goes further than just the same flammable cladding that burned that night.”

Although the government announced a new building safety fund worth £1bn, Wrack added: “But these measures do not go far enough. They are still ignoring those at risk in buildings under 18m, such as the Bolton Cube. This is not good enough and won’t keep people safe.”

The FBU also criticised the funding allocated for flood defences, saying: “After the devastating floods, firefighters pleaded with the government to provide the dramatic funding increase they need to keep people and communities safe, but once again, these pleas fell on deaf ears.

“When flooding or wildfires inevitably hit again with more intensity, the Chancellor will have to live with knowing that he failed to properly resource the response. He should be ashamed.”

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