Today Philip Hammond delivered his second budget as Chancellor. The last one was uninspiring, unraveled quickly and showed just how out of touch with modern Britain the Conservative Party is. A few months after that debacle, his party lost its majority and nearly tumbled out of power.
In the days and weeks that followed, Hammond and his beleaguered boss Theresa May implied they understood the message the public had sent them. They told us they had changed. They told us things would be different. For UNISON’s 1.3 million members, there was even the suggestion that proper pay rises for public servants might at long last be on the agenda.
Today they confirmed what most of us already knew. They haven’t understood. They haven’t changed. They haven’t learned. And it’s care workers, teaching assistants, hospital porters and all of us who rely on them and those like them, who are still being made to pick up the pieces.
The Chancellor argued that he wanted to make Britain ‘fit for the future’ – a questionable promise after seven years of Conservative misrule – yet his budget left public services gasping for air.
Instead, public services received yet another let down today. The decision to increase business rates by CPI instead of RPI undermines the local government tax base and has long-term implications for funding, and there was precious little to lift the pressure on schools and colleges. Yes, some extra money for the NHS in England, but nowhere near what was requested and required.
And on wages – the urgent action required was utterly absent. The vast majority of public sector workers got nothing to cheer out of the budget, only the guarantee of more pay misery as they head into Christmas. And while the hopes of NHS employees will be slightly raised, there’s still no money in their pockets, only the promise of a possible offer. Just as with the government’s Brexit negotiations, we’re told nothing, promised little and delivered less still.
The healthcare assistant heading to the food bank, worried about what to do for Christmas this year, can’t live on Hammond and Hunt’s smoke and mirrors. Like all public sector employees – those in our emergency services, council workers and school staff – they all need a real pay rise and they needed it yesterday.
As pay is squeezed, more jobs are lost and employers struggle to fill posts in an increasingly underfunded and under-attack public sector, our hospitals, schools and local services are going to suffer – and the Conservative Party is going to pay for that suffering at the ballot box.
Today was another opportunity for Philip Hammond and Theresa May to show they had understood the anger caused by their government, and a nation’s fear of what impact their attacks are having on communities and future generations. It was an opportunity they didn’t deserve. It was an opportunity they squandered.