Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak wants working class people to pay for the economic crisis caused by the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Although it is just the beginning, it is a clear signal that the Tories want working class people to bail out a system in crisis.
In his spending review on Wednesday Sunak announced a pay freeze for millions of public sector workers.
Directly-employed NHS workers will have a rise—but there is no indication yet what it will be.
In other parts of the public sector only workers earning less than £24,000 a year will see their pay increase—and then by only £5 a week.
Karl, a PCS member who works in a Jobcentre, told Socialist Worker, “My colleagues are saying we've been let down after what we've delivered since March.
“We've been making sure that people are getting what little money they're entitled to, and people have been proud of their contribution.
“They've now been told to pay for a crisis that's not of their making.”
Public sector workers include many of the frontline workers the Tories promised to protect.
And the average public sector worker is already earning 1.5 percent less than in 2010 in real terms.
Tony Phillips told Socialist Worker, " My partner is a nurse but I work in the Fire Service. The pay freeze is a real kick in the teeth for millions of public sector workers who have suffered ten years of very low pay rises which have reduced the real value of our pay."
The Tories want to create a divide between workers, pitting one group against another.
Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB union, said, “The attempt to divide and rule will put him on a direct collision course with public service workers.
“The government should tax those who have profited from the pandemic—get them to stump up the cash that has lined their pockets.”
Ian Hodson, national president of Bfawu, said, “The Tories want a levelling down in pay, playing its divide and rule card trying to get public and private workers at each other’s throats while they run off with the loot.”
The union leaders' words need to be turned into action.
In other cuts, Sunak said that the overseas aid budget will be slashed from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of national income.
Behind all the figures is a deep crisis.
The British economy is set to shrink this year by 11.3 percent—“the largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”
The forecast for borrowing this year is £394 billion—“the highest recorded level of borrowing in our peacetime history”.
But that doesn’t make cuts inevitable.
The government has announced that military spending will be increased by £16.5 billion over four years. This is the largest real-terms increase in the war budget since the days of Margaret Thatcher.
Britain will be Europe’s largest spender on war, with the lowest statutory sick pay of all the OECD richer economies.
And the Tories have handed tens of billions to big businesses, as well as fat contracts to their friends.
There is no reason why workers must now pay the price instead of using the £743 billion wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain and the profits of shareholders and chief executives.
Karl added, "Trade unions should do everything they can to get their members out on industrial action and get the pay rise they deserve—at least 10 percent.”
Now is the time for workers to fight back against the Tories.
Promises broken to the lowest paid
Britain's lowest paid workers will receive a pay rise of just 19p an hour next year
Sunak said the National Living Wage will rise to £8.91 an hour next April. It had earlier been pledged that the rise would be 49p an hour.
“Workers on the national minimum wage—not least the two million who are key workers— have been let down by the decision to row back on the full planned rise they were promised,” the Trades Union Congress said.
Millions face benefits increase of 5p a day
In a separate announcement on Wednesday, the government said that millions of people's benefits will rise by a pittance in April.
So-called “legacy” benefits, those not rolled into Universal Credit will go up by only 0.5 percent for 2021-22.
That means a rise of just 37p a week to the £74.35 standard rate of Jobseekers' Allowance or sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance.
Those benefits together are claimed by around 2 million people.
The rise for under-25s will be even smaller, and the separate Carer's Allowance looks set to rise by just 34p.
Universal Credit, which is too low to live on properly, was raised by £20 a week in April 2020. But Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said on Wednesday that a decision has not yet been made on whether to keep the increase beyond April next year.
'Three million unemployed' next year
Unemployment will surge to a peak of 7.5 percent next year when the furlough scheme ends according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
It said that 3 million people will be jobless by the second quarter of 2021, with unemployment reaching close to double the levels seen before the pandemic.
The real figure may be higher. The fight for jobs and the fight for pay have to be brought together.
Pensioner coronavirus deaths cut costs
There was a terrible sign of the carnage caused by coronavirus on Wednesday.
The state pension bill will be around £600 million lower than forecast this financial year due to tens of thousands of pensioners dying from Covid-19, according to estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
The OBR said that it had revised up its estimates for pensioner-age deaths this year from 62,000, made in its July Fiscal Sustainability Report, to 90,000, as a result of the "resurgence" of Covid-19 infections.