Sunday shows: Labour opposes tax-free personal allowance freeze after U-turn

Labour representatives confirmed on the Sunday shows that the party will now be opposing Rishi Sunak’s income tax personal allowance freeze, and voting against it. This represents a U-turn, as Anneliese Dodds had said on Thursday that Labour was “not going to oppose change to that personal allowance, the freezing of it that the Chancellor set out for the future”.

The Andrew Marr Show

Shadow Heath Secretary Jonathan Ashworth confirmed Labour’s new position on the personal allowance freeze, expressed support for schools returning on Monday and criticised the government-proposed real-terms pay cut for NHS staff.

  • Are you sure schools are safe? “Yes, schools should return… We do need to make sure schools have the ventilation in place, they do have classrooms set up in a way children can be spread out. We suggested the government set up nightingale classrooms – they didn’t do that, but it’s important that children go back to school.”
  • On teachers not being prioritised for vaccines as suggested by Labour: “I think it’s disappointing that teachers were not carved out for the vaccination… Our concern is that children will be sent home again because staff will be off sick.”
  • On the R rate going above 1: “If schools reopening puts upward pressure on the R, which lots of epidemiologists are expecting, we need to make sure we’re taking other measures… We have to be cautious on reopening hospitality.”
  • Asked whether Labour would be prepared to slow down the roadmap to ensure schools are open: “Yes, because you have to be driven by data, not arbitrary dates.”
  • On whether the school day should be longer: “You’ve got to look at the school day, summer activities, you’ve got to do this in partnership with teachers.”
  • On NHS staff pay: “It was absolutely disgusting that the Tory government unveiled the budget, which is putting tax up for hard-working families and cutting pay for nurses. And Rishi Sunak sneaked it out the day after because he was too cowardly to announce it on the day.”
  • He added: “The government budgeted 2.1% [pay rise] and they passed that in legislation. That should be the basis on which negotiations and discussions are now entered into with the trade unions.”
  • Ashworth would not say what pay rise Labour would implement, instead saying Labour would respect the conclusion of the independent pay review body.
  • Would you support a nurses’ strike? “I know nurses. They don’t want to go on strike. I’ll always champion nurses, I’ll always stand by nurses. They don’t want to go on strike.”
  • He added: “I will always support the right of staff to take industrial action. But we don’t want to get to that place.”
  • On Labour U-turning on the income tax personal allowance freeze: “They’re asking low-paid people to pay more in tax. That’s the position of the Tory Party today.”
  • He added: “We’re not in favour of tax rises for lower- and middle-income families. And that’s what Rishi Sunak is introducing.”

Gavin Williamson insisted that he is the right person for the Education Secretary job and, in response to Andrew Marr raising scandals such as the exams fiasco, said he would “never make an apology for wanting to keep our schools open”.

As schools have been closed to most pupils for extended periods, prompting concerns over a widening attainment gap, the minister said the government is looking at “how the school year runs” and “how we can boost teacher quality”.

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy also confirmed that Labour now plans to vote against the income tax thresholds freeze, and suggested that face masks in secondary schools should not be a legal obligation.

  • On the freeze: “We are going to vote against it this week. We think that now is absolutely the wrong time to be targeting low- and middle-income earning families for tax hikes and squeezing their incomes.”
  • On corporation tax: “What the government was effectively saying was that low- and middle-income earning families would be targeted to start paying into the system a full year before many of those major corporations.”
  • On business: “The recovery is very fragile. There are businesses in this country, including many in my constituency here in Wigan, that haven’t been open for most of the last year… They need families going out and spending again.”
  • On the Budget: “Buried in the small print of this Budget was a council tax rise for those families, we’re going to see cuts to Universal Credit coming in six month – what you’re hitting families with is a perfect storm.”
  • Put to her that Labour has a ‘cake and eat it’ approach: “This is entirely in-step with other major economies. If you look over at the USA, Joe Biden is putting in a fiscal stimulus package worth trillions. The EU is following suit.”
  • She added: “There’s an economic consensus that the way in which we’re going to get through this is to make sure that we protect businesses and workers right now.”
  • On the 1% planned pay rise for nurses: “The government, to be clear, is not planning a pay rise… That is a real-terms pay cut because it doesn’t keep pace with inflation, and for nurses to be offered a pay cut is just reprehensible.”
  • On what Labour wants: “At the very minimum, they must honour that commitment that they wrote into law at 2.1%… We think that nurses deserve a pay rise this year and that should never have been something up that was up for negotiation.”
  • On possible strike action: “Nurses in my constituency who I met last week are not asking me for a strike, they weren’t promised a strike. They were promised a pay rise, and that is what I’m determined they’re going to get.”
  • Asked whether face masks in secondary schools should be a legal obligation: “It’s not the right approach for students, for parents. And many teachers in my constituency have been telling me that they feel that would be unenforceable.”
  • On Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is supposed to be released today: “Other countries have made more progress in getting their nationals home. We need to see a really concerted effort now across government led by the Prime Minister.”
  • On the impact of the pandemic on women: “There’s a risk that as we come out of this we could see those inequalities that have widened already during the pandemic widen even further.”
  • On the number of women in government: “Women lack an obvious champion within government… The more women you have at the highest levels making these decisions, the less likely it is that women become an afterthought.”
  • On Labour never having a woman as leader: “It is frustrating for Labour and I won’t dress that up… Working with Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, I know that’s something they’re absolutely committed to.
  • On women in Labour: “We’ve got women in those key positions. And I just hope that by being in those positions, and by standing up and providing a strong challenge to the government… that we are showing the way.”

Gavin Williamson also appeared on the show this morning. He defended the 1% pay rise for nurses, saying that the government has been clear on its “commitment” to the NHS but adding “we are facing difficult economic challenges”.

Asked about possible strike action, currently being considered by the Royal College of Nurses, he argued that “no-one wants to see industrial action” and insisted that the government is “completely committed to investment in the NHS”.

Challenged over the decision to refurbish the Prime Minister’s flat while freezing public sector pay, the Education Secretary refused to engage with the question and said he was “more interested in making sure children get back to school”.

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