“A cynical ploy”: How trade unions reacted to the Autumn Statement

"Working people aren’t fools and won't forgive or forget who trashed our country’s economy.”

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt announced his Autumn Statement today with an emphasis on cutting taxes and a promise to ‘make work pay’.

Near the beginning of his speech Hunt said his party had avoided making “unaffordable pay offers to the unions”, which perhaps sets the tone for how trade unions have reacted to Hunt’s plan for the economy.

Most unions emphasised how investment in public services failed to get a mention in the statement, and echoed a consensus that it was a politically motivated attempt to shift attention away from the Tories dismal poll ratings.  

With high energy costs and years of pay squeezes, trade unions were unanimously unimpressed by what Mark Serwotka of the PCS union summed up as “pre-election tax bribes”.

Starting us of we have Paul Nowak of the TUC who slammed Hunt’s budget as a “plan for levelling the country down”. Nowak said it confirmed, “another round of punishing spending cuts to public services and investment”.

Nowak argued that cutting national insurance will fail to make a dent on 13 years of Tory wage freeze’s and falling living standards, and having “broken Britain”, the Conservatives “cannot be trusted to fix it”.

General secretary of the UK’s largest union UNISON, Christina McAnea, blasted the Statement as a “cynical ploy that won’t fool the public”.

“This is a desperate attempt to press the reset button and present the government as the party of change. But it’s too little too late and can’t undo the damage done,” said McAnea.

“It’s a cynical ploy ahead of an early election. The government is on the ropes and wants to shift attention from its dire poll ratings.

“The chancellor is simply giving back what he and his inept predecessors have already snatched from working people. No one will be fooled. They will still be worse off.”

GMB union also criticised the cut to national insurance which general secretary Gary Smith said would add just over £150 a year to the lowest earner, a mere “drop in the ocean” in the face of large energy bills and household who have seen their mortgages double.

He added that working people “aren’t fools” and won’t “forgive or forget who trashed our country’s economy.”

The National Education Union noted that proper investment in the education system failed to get a mention in the Statement, despite “years of under-investment”. Whilst the RCN nurses’ union also lambasted the Statement as evidence that the “NHS is no longer a priority for the government”.

“A wasted opportunity”, is how Prospect, the union for specialist workers summed up the Statement which it felt failed to “set out a path to a fairer economy”.

“No amount of rhetoric will hide the fact the UK is failing to deliver the energy infrastructure and innovation we need to meet our net zero targets and create new jobs,” the union said.

A failure to tackle corporate profiteering or support investment in steel and manufacturing was highlighted by Unite the union. As Sharon Graham slammed the statement as an “abject failure for workers”, despite the chancellor’s “sunny optimism”.

Self-employed people were told they will see their national insurance contributions cut, which Hunt said would be worth £350 extra a year. However, the union Equity which represents many self-employed workers in the entertainment industry said their members were being “short-changed” by the “headline-grabbing tax cut”.

Paul Fleming, Equity leader commented: “Our self-employed members want investment to fix the holes in the social security system and public services.”

He added: “The government’s continued support for industry through tax reliefs and expenditure credits is welcome. But only as one step in a roadmap towards investing the European average of 0.5% of GDP in the creative industries.”

Many unions also showed disgust at the government’s plan to penalise benefit claimants who are in long-term unemployment, which Fleming referred to as “abhorrent”. Including changes to the work capability to make more people with physical disabilities work from home.

“Disabled people have consistently been forced to pay the price of this government’s poor management of the economy and public services, and their tax cuts to the wealthy and big business. Equity says ‘enough’.”

Serwotka of the PCS union, said the “punitive consequences” of the government’s statement will affect the most vulnerable and fall on the shoulders of the union’s members working in the DWP.

“Sanctions don’t work,” said Serwotka. “The government needs to concentrate on providing a service that genuinely supports benefits claimants rather than punishing them whilst making the working lives of DWP staff intolerable.”

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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