This afternoon’s budget statement was predated by Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference in which she stated that “a decade after the financial crash people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.” Despite the noise around such a “promise”, the debate about the longer-term implications of Brexit and the precariousness of the Government itself it is important to focus on the bigger picture and to assess today’s rhetoric against the material reality in which our members and their families are living.
NIPSA has engaged in discussion with the Nevin Economic Research Institute on this wider analysis and their budget preview illustrates the scale of cuts to the public service budgets that those who inflicted them are now saying needs to be addressed. For example, given the often-stated desire to “balance the books”, they point out that, without changes to current taxation or borrowing plans at a UK level “£19bn... would be required just to avoid further cuts in departmental expenditure. There are a further £7bn cuts already pencilled in for welfare”. In addition, they illustrate how at a local level we have lived with a day-to-day spending decrease on public services since 2010 of £9.5bn with capital spending “despite a significant projected increase over the next three years...set to be 17% lower in 2019/20 than it was in 2009/10”. (See full analysis here).
We welcome, of course any local positives that come from the “Barnett consequentials” and anything that aids a struggling local economy bearing in mind that any “City deal” or proposed investment needs to be properly scrutinised to make sure that any activity is publicly accountable. The fullest boost to this economy, however, would be to fund the public sector pay rises that would compensate the real terms cuts that years of an inadequate, anti-public sector pay policy has delivered. It would also look to the real needs of society in terms of job security, health/social care and public housing.
NIPSA and the wider trade union movement have been challenging the long-standing lie of austerity since it first emerged. This has not been about economic decisions reluctantly taken but demonstrates a series of ideologically driven political choices about who and what matters in our society. The actual and forecast cruelty that Universal Credit represents, and the ongoing funding crises in our public services (with the United Nations for example, earlier this year finding that UK Government policies had failed to uphold the rights of disabled people) illustrates this most starkly. Nothing announced today from a political elite now nervous that they may pay an electoral price for their class-based recklessness changes the fundamentals. At best it hints that the vandals who caused the damage to the fabric of our society in the first place may just slacken the time line within which we will be asked to pay the full cost of its repair. All that is decent in our society was fought for collectively and can only be defended collectively. This mission is the urgent task of our union and the wider trade union movement.