Don’t be fooled by the Tories’ Autumn Statement—it’s not going to help workers. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s announcement last Wednesday pretends to be putting money in workers’ pockets with tax cuts and rises in the minimum wage and benefits.
In reality it’s a distraction from the real-terms pay cuts workers are suffering as inflation stays high, wages stay low and public spending is slashed. Some 40 percent of gains from the tax and benefit measures will go to the richest fifth of the population.
The top 20 percent gain on average £1,000, while the bottom fifth gets just £200. And despite the cuts, taxes will rise by 4.5 percent of GDP between 2019-20 and 2028-29.
The Resolution Foundation thinktank says that by the end of the 2020s the average household will be paying £4,300 more in tax than they were in 2019.
At the same time, even the tame Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned that average living standards are set to be 3.5 percent lower at the next election than they were at the last one.
The OBR said this will represent “the largest reduction in real living standards since records began in the 1950s”. And, because it’s an average, the increased hardship and poverty is going to be even greater for millions of workers and people on benefits.
And frozen income tax thresholds drag more people into paying tax or paying more. Hunt laid out an election bribe of a cut in national insurance paid by most workers.
But that’s a small gesture compared to the real-term cuts most workers have suffered as inflation has soared above wages. And 19 million adults are unaffected because their income is less than the starting rate for national insurance payments.
In any case, all such concessions are funded by the enormous spending cuts from 2025 onwards.
By 2028, day-to-day spending in some departments will be 16 percent lower than now.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that investment budgets face cuts of £13 billion for the same period, relative to plans Rishi Sunak himself put together when he was chancellor under Boris Johnson.
Pranesh Narayanan, a leading economic researcher, said, “These spending plans amount to a second round of Osborne-ite austerity. Austerity was the policy that set us on the track to economic stagnation in the 2010s.
“It was largely achieved by cutting public investment and holding down public sector pay. The results? Crumbling schools and record NHS waiting lists.”
But there’s plenty for the bosses. Hunt said his main £9 billion handout to the corporations was the “largest business tax cut in modern British history”.
He said, “It means we have not just the lowest headline corporation tax rate in the G7 but its most generous capital allowances,” he crowed.
He also unveiled 12 more “investment zones”—what he called “mini Canary Wharfs”. These are low tax, low regulation business areas to encourage profit-making.
Brutal new attacks on benefit claimants and nothing for NHS
One of the most vicious attacks in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s announcement is to force people off benefits and to do their “duty” by working.
From April 2025, if claimants deemed fit to work don’t find jobs after 18 months they will be forced to undergo “mandatory” work placements. Failing this, they have their payments snatched altogether.
People who don’t work because of ill health or disability incapacity benefit claimants stand at 2.4 million and the number is set to reach 2.9 million by 2028-29.
The changes mean some extra 370,000 people with disabilities and chronic health conditions will be ineligible for the incapacity benefits worth £390 a month on top of other benefits.
The cynical attacks ignores why people are unable to work. And claimants that currently face open-ended sanctions, where they have their benefits stopped, for more than six months will now have their claims closed.
This would also end their access to other benefits such as free prescriptions and legal aid.
National insurance is set to be cut by 2 percent and minimum wage has risen by £1.02 an hour. But frozen income tax thresholds drag more people into paying tax.
Elisa is on minimum wage. “I’m only just getting by—barely affording rent and with food prices going up and the cost of living crisis I make sure I’m tactical with my meals” she told Socialist Worker.
“You don’t get paid enough. Especially in London, it’s not even close to a real living wage.”
As she’s 22-years-old, Elisa’s pay will now be brought in-line with 23-year-olds. “I’m happy about that, but it’s still not good. I still need more than a fiver extra a day to survive” she added.
Jordan is a health worker. She said the absence of any extra funding or provisions for the NHS last week were “shocking”. “It’s so back to front,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The people in charge of us don’t give a shit if people live or die. They don’t care if we’re getting our health needs met.
Jordan said as winter hits, the NHS is going to be under extra strain. “People in the NHS dread this time all year round.
“We have to be active, not just to campaign to get the Tories out, but in our workplaces kicking up a massive fuss. We can’t accept this—we can’t let these people be in charge of us anymore.”