UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Enough of Austerity - time for a Labour pledge to change course

Leading UNISON NEC member Jane Carolan takes stock of yesterday’s Autumn Statement on UK Government spending plans: Tuesday’s Guardian featured a tale of two constituencies - Tatton, whose local MP is none other than Gideon George Oliver Osborne himself, and Morley and Ottwood, the constituency of his opposite number Ed Balls.

Tatton constituency is commonly referred to as Cheshire’s “Golden Triangle” situated in Manchester’s prime commuter belt. Home to overpaid premier league stars and prosperous farmers, it is said that only Mayfair has more millionaires per square mile. This area has been represented by a Tory since 1945 and is ethnically 96.7% white. Morley and Ottwood is south of Leeds consists of a mixture of old market town and pit villages. This is Labour territory, less footballers wives country, more Yorkshire working class.

The Guardian went to discover how these areas are responding to the supposed upturn in the British economy. There was a complete divergence in their fortunes. In Tatton sales of high performance cars worth hundreds of thousands are again on the up, shops indicated that luxury goods are flying of the shelves and restaurants report a roaring trade. Over in Yorkshire, in those under-heated commercial premises that were open lack of customers and trade were the constant refrain, while the number of properties boarded up continues to rise. Such results are hardly surprising. In one area the constituents have the extra cash that the government has given them to squander; in that area, Tatton they have Gideon to thank for their tax bonanza. In Yorkshire unemployment, combined with wage and benefit cuts means that prosperity is a thing of the past , and continues to be.

The article however serves as more than a hint of how the so called upturn is affecting the country. It is an indication of who this Tory government actually represents, a barometer of their class affiliation. Their most repeated lie is that we are all in this together. They pretended, when elected, that their economic policy was the result of the profligate spending by their predecessors, not by a financial catastrophe in the private banking sector that required state intervention, and hence public spending, but even that pretence is now stripped. At this year’s Lord Mayor’s banquet (an assembly of City movers, shakers and tax avoiders) Cameron himself gave the game away. Cameron wants a system of perpetual austerity - “a leaner ,more affordable state”. In this speech Cameron justifies cutting public spending by saying "At a time when family budgets are tight, it is really worth remembering that this spending comes out of the pockets of the same taxpayers whose living standards we want to see improve”.

The unavoidable fact however that every cut in public spending cuts the income of those taxpayers; that is those taxpayers who pay their PAYE ever week, not his supporters who practise tax evasion and avoidance at every turn, and whose incomes ensure that they have no reliance on public services. Spending on public services is redistributive. Cutting public services has the opposite effect and ensures that those with assets and income keep it. That is the Cameron vision of society.

Cameron’s vision needs to be borne in mind when evaluating Gideon’s latest Autumn Statement. How does it deal with the concerns of the real taxpayers and indeed those who would like to be? Because those are people whose anger we need to articulate. That’s our people who are being forced to use food banks and those who are horrified that they live in a country where their fellow citizens are going hungry. That’s everyone who understands the heat or eat dilemma because they are wondering how they are going to find the £500 that has been the increase in heating bills in the last few years. That’s the redundant public sector workers who find themselves at home scouring the ‘situations vacant’ to find a job way below their qualification level, to satisfy an inhuman bureaucracy that can leave them penniless. It’s the teenager who is part of the new lost generation, unable to access education or a decent apprenticeship. It’s the disabled person, terrified of the next ATOS assessment. That’s those humiliated by the latest follies from IDS, the calculating machine with no idea of the value of human dignity, who simply sees a departmental budget to be cut by inflicting pain on those unable to fight back.

That’s the two million people on a waiting list for social housing. That’s the majority of people in this country who rely on the NHS, rather than having private health insurance.  

What did Gideon have to say to us? Some things are not actually announced in the statement in case they attract attention .Thus as ever, on pre-statement day, further cuts were announced in central government budgets; more efficiency savings, to the amount of £1bn per year for the next 3 years . Whose tune was that he was repeating?

As usual ,an autumn statement starts with the reams of statistics that prove whatever the teller wants them to prove. Gideon wanted us to believe that he was on course. However as Larry Elliot notes in the Guardian:

‘Britain's recovery, by contrast, relies on repeating the sins of the past. Growth is not the result of the government's belt-tightening; rather, it is what you get if you keep interest rates at 0.5% for five years, then top things up with incentives for banks to lend for property purchase and state-backed incentives for people to take out home loans. Austerity ensured this bog-standard UK economic recovery was delayed and is weaker than it normally would have been. The chancellor was keen to point out that net borrowing was lower than forecast in March 2013, but forgot to mention that at £111bn it will be a lot higher than the £60bn estimate made in June 2010.’

Over a period of time that Mr Elliot has a better track record than Gideon in economic forecasting. It seems that unless the patient has actually died Gideon keeps repeating the medicine. For the young unemployed there will be additional support. This Government will provide a traineeship, work experience or community work. However, please note these options are compulsory . Take the option or lose your benefits; it could be called working for welfare or slave labour if you prefer.

Gideon says yet again that he will crack down on tax evasion .Well seeing is believing. Will the BBC now be offering a daily morning TV programme giving details of all those caught with their hand in the tax till, the way that they currently do for welfare benefits caught cheating the system? Surely ‘Spot That Tax Scrounger’ showing them dragged into court for sentencing would be just as popular?

Until they do, Gideon is guilty of more propaganda rather than action. Oh and he will introduce a married tax allowance and is proud taking all of earnings under £10,000 out of taxation. But then he know who benefits most, and it is not the low paid.

The pensionable age will rise. Gideon believes that the UK the world’s seventh largest economy can’t afford pensions .There again in his constituency he probably doesn’t meet many workers who work for a living.

On Housing Gideon knows what works. The right to buy works, and this country needs more private house building. Two million households on social housing waiting lists might beg to differ.

On the topics that are of interest to working people Gideon says not a lot. What about a falling standard of living, the fact that real wages continue to fall? Any recovery will ultimately depend upon a real increase in spending, and that depends on households having money to spend. Those with assets do spend - those with vastly increasing property prices and those with increasing incomes - that would be the bankers currently waiting for their ill deserved bonuses. Recent events put this into perspective. The sisters on trial for defrauding a Saatchi stole nearly £600,000 before anyone noticed; that’s a lifetime of work for someone on the minimum wage.

But the rich don’t spent in local shops or local services .

The real divisions in this country have never been clearer .A fairer, more equal society based on reducing discord or one which celebrates it? That is the choice . The deficit reducers believe in the latter , and are justified by some conventional economists. But that subject is under a microscope as never before, as questions are asked of a discipline that failed in the real world to foresee the great crash that was never supposed to happen in our lifetime.

To those who have more will be given. To those who earn a wage and work for a living there are no promises. Thus it is the best of times for the rich, the worst for the rest.

It is time that the Labour Party took its head out the sand and started speaking for the rest, the majority.

It is time to end austerity.