Coalition’s cuts draw a dividing line across Britain

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis on why we are not all in this together, on how the Nick Clegg/David Cameron cuts are hitting the poorest hardest.

Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of UNISON, Britain’s biggest public sector trade union with more than 1.3 million members

Another week, another example of the coalition’s cuts hitting the poorest hardest, drawing dividing lines across the map of Britain. In December, when Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced the scale of cuts set to hit councils, the picture looked bleak enough. The biggest budget cuts in living memory – up to 10 per cent next financial year – spell real danger for vital local services, for jobs and for economic recovery.

But careful analysis by UNISON of two streams of council funding shows the picture to be grimmer still. Low-income communities are facing a double whammy of cuts to two grants, whilst richer councils will be protected by a multi-million pound boost to one stream of funding, which will partly offset cuts to the other.

A closer look at four councils across the country – Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Liverpool and Sheffield – illustrates the point. Surrey County Council’s formula grant will be cut by £25.5 million, but its specific grant will get a £12.3m boost. Similarly, the £11.1m cut to Buckinghamshire County Council’s formula grant will be offset by a £4.6m increase to its specific grant.

Meanwhile, Liverpool City Council will lose £43.3m from its formula grant as well as £36.9m from its specific grant. Sheffield City Council will be hit with a £37.3m cut to its formula grant and another £19.1m from its specific grant.

How can the government justify such unfairness? True blue Tory councils such as Surrey and Buckinghamshire need no such leg up in life. Both are areas where median weekly earnings bust the national average by more than £100.

On top of that, they enjoy unemployment rates that are well below the national average of 3.5%; only 1.7% of people in Surrey County Council claim Jobseeker’s Allowance and 1.8% in Bucks. A UNISON survey out late last year looked at the number of unemployed people chasing every advertised job; both have well under the national average of 4.6%, with 2.4% and 2.9% respectively.

Meanwhile, families in Liverpool and Sheffield need all the help they can get. Both councils are in deprived areas, heavily dependent on the public sector. Sheffield is still dealing with the legacy of Thatcher’s pit closures and the end of steel production. Higher than average number of JSA claimants blight both city councils – 9.5% and 4.0% respectively, as do lower than average weekly earnings – £475 a week in Liverpool and £476 a week in Sheffield. More misery is piled on by a higher than average ratio of unemployed people per vacant job, with 9.6 people chasing every advertised job in Liverpool and 5.7 in Sheffield.

This nails the lie that we are all in this together. The truth is that this is a government for the wealthy, by the wealthy, with the coalition’s Tory leaders determined to wage their ideologically-driven war on the public sector, regardless of the consequences.

UNISON will continue to campaign for an alternative economic agenda, based on fair taxation, that promotes economic recovery. We believe the majority of British people want to see fairness back at the heart of our society.

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