Trade unions respond to the Chancellor’s Spending Review

Trade unions respond to the Chancellor’s Spending Review

- in NEU, UNISON, Unite
Rishi Sunak MP

Yesterday the Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his Spending Review, setting out what the UK government will spend on health, education, transport and other public services next year. See how the unions responded below…

In a statement in Parliament, the Chancellor also briefed MPs about the current state of the UK economy and the latest forecasts for public finances – which have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the key takeaways from the Spending Review:

  • An estimated 1.3 million public sector workers will see their pay frozen in 2021-2
  • However, more than two million earning less than £24,000 a year will get a minimum £250 increase
  • The UK economy is expected to shrink by 11.3% this year
  • Unemployment is expected to reach 7.5% next spring, with 2.6 million people out of work
  • Overseas aid budget is to be cut by about £4bn
  • A new £4bn “levelling up” fund will pay for upgrading local infrastructure across UK

The UK’s largest union, Unite, described the government’s decision to freeze public sector pay as a “body blow” to public sector workers and said that the Prime Minister’s ‘levelling up’ agenda “is in tatters”.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The chancellor Rishi Sunak has delivered a body blow to the public sector workers he has targeted to bear the brunt of the costs of the pandemic with a pay freeze – his so-called ‘pause’.

“It is doubly disappointing that the chancellor has adopted ‘divide and rule’ tactics over public sector pay with an award for NHS staff, but a freeze on pay for millions of others, such as teaching assistants, who are already low paid.

“The sop of £250 to the two million public sector workers earning under £24,000-a-year is insulting and compares badly with the inflated sums that the government has wasted on PPE contracts for those with links to the Tory establishment.

“This mainly female workforce already juggle work commitments, childcare responsibilities and care for elderly relatives yet kept vital services running throughout the pandemic, at times due to government failures in PPE provision, risking their own health in the service of others.

“It is also a blow to local economies and high streets where public sector workers spend a large proportion of their wages.

“The prime minister’s ‘levelling up’ agenda is in tatters as a result of the chancellor’s divisive pay announcement which does nothing to restore the ‘lost’ pay in real terms from a decade of austerity.”

UNISON also criticised the freezing of public sector pay, stressing that many key workers who have helped the country through the coronavirus pandemic are being “taken for granted”.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is austerity plain and simple. A decade of spending cuts left public services exposed when Covid came calling. The government is making the same disastrous mistake again.

“Going after the pay of millions will be a bitter pill for key workers getting the UK through the pandemic and out the other side.

“The Chancellor wants to pause the pay of care, school, council and other public service workers who’ve been on fast forward all year.

“Extra money in pockets gets spent locally. Less than a pound more a week for some won’t save the thousands of ailing shops and leisure, arts and hospitality venues across the country.

“Health staff have already shown they and the NHS more than deserve a rise this year. This can’t wait on a lengthy pay review body process. The government should deliver the goods now.

“Reviving the economy will take a gargantuan effort from everyone. That means investing in the entire economy, not seeking to divide and rule between the sectors. Key workers mustn’t be taken for granted and left to carry the Covid can.”

The country’s largest education union, the National Education Union (NEU), highlighted the problems the pay freeze will have not just on school staff morale, but also on recruitment and retention of teachers.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The Chancellor said he wants stronger public services but has delivered a body blow to staff in our schools and colleges. Education workers are key workers who have kept the country going during the pandemic, but pay cuts are their only reward from this government.

“Teachers and support staff are working in schools and colleges without PPE, without social distancing and without adequate cleaning. Teachers are teaching their normal timetable and then preparing remote learning for pupils isolating at home. They are supporting pupils who are anxious and stressed because of the increased challenges Covid is bringing to their families.

“It is not enough for government ministers to thank teachers for their vital contribution during Covid. Such sentiments ring hollow when they are then subject to a pay freeze which follows previous pay freezes and years of below-inflation pay increases which have eaten into the real value of their pay since 2010. Support staff face the prospect of yet more below-inflation pay increases. These pay cuts will hit education workers just as inflation is expected to pick up in late 2021.

“Today’s announcement will negate all the government’s attempts to keep teachers in the profession. It will make recruitment and retention problems even worse to the detriment of our young people, their parents and the economy.

“This attempt to divide and rule makes no economic sense. The government should be acting to support pay for all workers at this difficult time. Cutting the pay of teachers and other public sector workers will reduce spending power in the economy. It will reduce the amount they spend on sectors already in crisis such as retail and hospitality, so attacks on public sector pay are attacks on private sector workers too.

“While it is welcome that the Chancellor has not cut back the planned spending on schools as some feared, this spending increase is not enough to complete the job of restoring previous cuts and includes nothing for the extra costs of Covid-19 which schools are currently facing.

“True levelling up means investing more in education and other public services, not levelling down by further attacks on pay. The government is breaking its promises to increase teacher pay, but the recruitment and retention problems that gave rise to those promises have not gone away. At a time when staff in education have contributed so much to the pandemic response, this attack on education staff is neither fair nor economically defensible.”

NASUWT meanwhile described the decision to freeze teacher’s pay as “short-sighted” and a “slap in the face” for the teaching profession, before stressing that the significant impact of COVID-19 on pupils will only add more strain to school budgets.

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “The short-sighted decision to freeze teachers’ pay is out of step with public opinion and is a slap in the face to the teaching profession, particularly at a time when teachers have been serving on the frontline, risking their own health to maintain education and support for children and young people.

“The Chancellor’s claim that a public sector pay freeze is necessary as private sector wages fell by nearly 1% in the six months to September is no justification for imposing further real-terms cuts to the pay of teachers.

“The government has tried to trumpet headlines of a 3.1% pay award in 2020 for teachers, but the reality is that two-thirds of teachers were eligible for no more than a 2.75% pay award and many teachers received nothing

“This is on the back of a decade of real-terms pay erosion which has created a 20% shortfall in teachers’ salaries.

“The government has presided over a teachers’ pay lottery, short-changing teachers and failing to ensure that school and academy employers give teachers the pay awards they are entitled to.

“The Chancellor’s commitments on school budgets have not addressed the ongoing additional financial pressures that all schools are facing and will continue to face into 2021 and beyond as a result of the pandemic. The academic, social and emotional cost of tackling Covid-19 and its impact on children and young people is likely to be significant and will only increase the strain on school budgets.

“The government’s pledge to stick to pre-pandemic funding commitments will be wholly insufficient in ensuring schools and children’s education recover fully from the impact of Covid-19.”



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