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Following PMQs on Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer took another opportunity to ‘splash the cash,’ with a ‘Summer Statement.’ Stepping up to the dispatch box to deliver what was not quite a budget, ‘Rich Rishi’ under the tight control of the supreme minder, Dominic Cummings, was there to uphold Tory values on keeping wealth in the grubby paws of the wealthy and deciding who should be washed down the ‘Sunak Sluice.’ He began by claiming that, “We have taken decisive action to protect our economy, but people are anxious about losing their job and about unemployment rising.” The picture was bleak, “People need to know that although hardship lies ahead, no one will be left without hope… Where problems emerge, we will confront them. Where support is justified, we will provide it. Where challenges arise, we will overcome them.” ‘Justified’ would be the operative word!
Sunak reverted to Tory bragging saying, “We put in place one of the largest and most comprehensive economic responses in the world. Our £160 billion plan protects people’s jobs, incomes and businesses. We supported more than 11 million people and jobs through the job retention and self-employment schemes, alongside billions of pounds for the most vulnerable.” Sunak had a barb for those tetchy devolved Governments hankering for independence from the doom of Tory rule and crash-out Brexit; they had dared to deviate from shambolic Tory policy on important issues exposing the PM’s failures. He said sarcastically “No nationalist can ignore the undeniable truth: this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.” He said, “World economic activity has slowed, with the International Monetary Fund expecting the deepest global recession since records began. Household consumption, the biggest component of our economy, has fallen steeply. Businesses have stopped trading and stopped hiring.”
Sunak said, “I want every person in this House and in the country to know that I will never accept unemployment as an unavoidable outcome.” He had to reinforce the lie that Johnson’s Tory Government was committed to ‘levelling up’ reversing the disgraceful reality of a decade of Tory austerity cuts, rising inequality and ‘decimating down.’ Continuing the big lie Sunak claimed, “The Prime Minister has set out our vision to level up, unite the country, spread opportunity, and repair and heal the wounds exposed through this crisis.” He said, “Furlough has been a lifeline for millions, supporting people and businesses to protect jobs, but it cannot, and should not, go on forever.” It was probably only put in place to spread the massive unemployment out over a longer period so that the impact of dwindling public confidence in the Government would be more manageable. So cutting to the chase what was on offer to replace the Furlough scheme? These were the new pledges of support offered by ‘Rich Rishi.’
1. “If you are an employer and you bring back someone who was furloughed, and you continuously employ them through to January, we will pay you a £1,000 bonus per employee. It is vital that people are not just returning for the sake of it; they need to be doing decent work. For businesses to get the bonus, the employee must be paid at least £520, on average, in each month from November to January, the equivalent of the lower earnings limit in national insurance.” The BBC report that, “HM Revenue and Customs boss Jim Harra wrote to Mr Sunak to express concerns about paying firms a £1,000 bonus to retain furloughed staff.”
2. The next incentive plan fails to mention that the targeted age group are paid less than the living wage due to a discriminatory policy. “The kick-start scheme will pay employers directly to create new jobs for any 16 to 24-year-old at risk of long-term unemployment. These will be new jobs, with the funding conditional on the firm proving that the jobs are additional. These will be decent jobs, with a minimum of 25 hours per week paid at least the national minimum wage, and they will be good-quality jobs, with employers providing kick-starters with training and support to find a permanent job. If employers meet those conditions, we will pay young people’s wages for six months, plus an amount to cover overheads. That means, for a 24-year-old the grant will be around £6,500. Employers can apply to be part of the scheme from next month, with the first kick-starters in their new jobs this autumn.”
3. “We can do more for young people. Traineeships are a proven scheme to get young people ready for work, and we know they work, so for the first time ever we will pay employers £1,000 to take on new trainees, with triple the number of places. What is more, to help 18 to 19-year-olds leaving school or college to find work in high-demand sectors, such as engineering, construction and social care, we will provide £100 million to create more places on level 2 and 3 courses.” Although this looks like a policy to assist youth employment, they will earn less than the so called ‘living wage’ due to their age; they represent cheap labour.
4. The same applies to the next incentive as since the meaning of the term apprentice has expanded to encompass areas of work that have never traditionally required training. The pay is as low as £3.50 an hour not enough to allow independent living and many of the programs would be more accurately described as ‘exploiterships.’ Sunak announced, “…For the next six months we will pay employers to create new apprenticeships. We will pay businesses to hire young apprentices, with a new payment of £2,000 per apprentice, and introduce a brand new bonus for businesses to hire apprentices aged 25 and over, with a payment of £1,500.”
5. “I am investing an extra £1.2 billion in the Department for Work and Pensions to support millions of people back to work.” Most who have had to deal with this toxically manipulated department will cringe at the prospect of what new tortures, blame and shame will be inflicted as a component of ‘support’ in getting back to work; the Tories have a disgraceful track record of cruel inhumanity towards the unemployed. A bit more Tory bragging and a few more expansive promises were in order as Sunak rehashed old pledges with a new spin on urgency, “At the Budget, I announced £88 billion of capital funding this year, and last week the Prime Minister announced our plans to accelerate £5 billion of additional investment projects. We are doubling down on our ambition to level up, with better roads, better schools, better hospitals and better high streets, creating jobs in all four corners of the country.”
6. We all know what happened to “that Green Crap” under the Tories in the past, but Sunak was upbeat, “As well as investing in infrastructure, we want to create green jobs. This will be a green recovery, with concern for our environment at its heart, and as part of that, I am announcing today… a new £2 billion green homes grant. From September, homeowners and landlords will be able to apply for vouchers to make their homes more energy efficient and create local jobs. The grants will cover at least two thirds of the cost—up to £5,000 per household—and for low-income households we will go even further, with vouchers covering the full cost, up to £10,000. On top of the £2 billion voucher scheme, I am releasing £1 billion of funding to improve the energy efficiency of public sector buildings, alongside a £50 million fund to pilot the right approach to decarbonise social housing.”
7. “We need people feeling confident, confident to buy, sell, renovate, move and improve. That will drive growth. That will create jobs. So to catalyse the housing market and boost confidence, I have decided today to cut stamp duty. Right now, there is no stamp duty on transactions below £125,000. Today, I am increasing the threshold to half a million pounds. This will be a temporary cut running until 31 March next year.” Undaunted by the bankruptcies, rocketing unemployment, mass evictions and destitution of the masses ‘Rich Rishi’ offered a Stamp Duty holiday for those wealthy enough to consider buying property. This largesse is not limited to first time home buyers, it will benefit those set to acquire a second home or invest is rental properties, thus increasing the pressure to evict the newly unemployed destitute!
8. “First, at the moment, VAT on hospitality and tourism is charged at 20%, so I have decided, for the next six months, to cut VAT on food, accommodation and attractions. Eat-in or hot takeaway food from restaurants, cafés and pubs; accommodation in hotels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan sites; attractions like cinemas, theme parks and zoos—all these and more will see VAT reduced, from next Wednesday until 12 January, from 20% to 5%. This is a £4 billion catalyst for the hospitality and tourism sectors, benefiting over 150,000 businesses and consumers everywhere—all helping to protect 2.4 million jobs.”
9. “For the month of August, we will give everyone in the country an eat-out-to-help-out discount. Meals eaten at any participating business, Monday to Wednesday, will be 50% off, up to a maximum discount of £10 per head for everyone, including children…. we can all eat out to help out. A VAT cut to 5% and a first-of-its-kind Government-backed discount for all, that is the third part of our plan for jobs.” The final ‘sweetener’ was reminiscent of the cheap deals touted on that annoying junk mail that cascades through your door on a regular basis. With mass unemployment and turning to food bank to survive this was like a sick joke taunting the newly impoverished with a discount that would only be of use to those who could already afford to eat out.
Rishi Sunak concluded by reminding us all of what was now on offer, “A £1,000 jobs retention bonus; new, high-quality jobs for hundreds of thousands of young kick-starters; £1 billion to double the number of work coaches and support the unemployed; more apprenticeships, more traineeships and more skills funding; billions of pounds for new job creation projects across the country; a £3 billion plan to support 140,000 green jobs; and, in this vital period, as we get going again, VAT cut, stamp duty cut and meals out cut—all part of our plan for jobs worth up to £30 billion.” The man who was appointed so that Dominic Cummings could have stricter control over how the budget was allocated then tried to convince us he was more than just a compliant yes man. Pitching strong principals he said, “For me, this has never just been a question of economics, but of values. I believe in the nobility of work.”
Labour Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds responded cautiously saying, “The Government have had to take big decisions too; we acknowledge that, but today should have been the day when our Government chose to build a bridge between what has been done so far and what needs to be done to get our economy moving again. It should have been the day when the millions of British people worried about their jobs and future prospects had a load taken off their shoulders. It should have been the day when we got the UK economy firing again.” Putting the harsh reality into perspective she said, “we have one of the highest death rates in the world and among the deepest economic damage in the industrialised world from coronavirus. So the very first thing the Chancellor must do is prevent additional economic damage due to the slow public health response of his Government.”
No escaping the evidence of shambolic Tory mismanagement, Dodds continued, “Despite all their talk, the Government have failed to create a fully functioning test, track and isolate system. That has damaged public confidence and, in turn, harmed consumer demand. Despite all their talk, the Government have failed to produce a clear system for local lockdowns. The Government’s contracts with outsourcing firms amount to almost £3 billion, but we still have not got test, track and isolate working properly in the UK, as it is in many other countries, and the Government still have not got a grip on the low value and limited scope of sick pay, risking people’s ability to self-isolate. Fear is corrosive. Fear is hurting our economy. The Government have got to get this right. So please, Chancellor, work with your colleagues so our public health response catches up with that operating in other countries.”
Probably referring to the devastating deindustrialization wrought by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government Dodds said, “The levels of unemployment that this country saw in the past were not just an economic waste; they ruined lives. We are seeing the same impacts again, the same devastated high streets and communities robbed of their pride and purpose.” The north was never helped to recover from the damage of that time. Dodds continued, “Of course the re-employment bonus announced by the Chancellor is necessary, not least because his Government refused to put conditions on the use of those funds related to employment. But, first, how can he ensure that that money will not just go to those employers who were already planning to bring people back into work and, secondly, what will he do for those firms that lack the cash flow to be able to operate even with that bonus?”
There were gaping holes in the Tory proposals laid out by Sunak and Anneliese Dodds felt compelled to point them out by saying, “Related to that, the Chancellor still needs to abandon his one-size-fits-all approach to withdrawing the job retention and self-employed schemes. We also need a strategy for the scheme to become more flexible so that it can support those businesses forced to close again because of additional localised lockdowns. We need action to ensure the support needed for key sectors of our economy, for our small and medium-sized enterprises and our manufacturers.” She said, “it appears that there will be no solutions for SMEs who cannot take on additional debt until the autumn,” and warned, “This risks many SMEs going to the wall.”
Dodds continued, “Until now, the Chancellor has described a targeted, sectoral approach as the Treasury ‘picking winners’, but the necessary public health measures have created losers. As the Chancellor himself said just now, the Government required many businesses to shut down to prevent the spread of this disease. Supporting businesses that are viable in the long run but currently starved of cash flow is not a matter of ‘picking winners’: it is about protecting our country’s economic capacity for the future.” Dodds took credit for one part of the Tories ‘New Steal’ when she said, “Labour repeatedly called for the Government to match the ambitions of Labour’s future jobs fund and Welsh Labour’s Jobs Growth Wales programme, and finally the Government have come forward with a scheme apparently modelled on them: the kick-start scheme. The Conservatives cancelled the future jobs fund, of course, and it has taken almost 10 years for them to catch up.”
Dodds empathised with and wanted to articulate the concerns of many people throughout the country who understandably fear job loss due to the horrendously punitive functioning of DWP and being forced to subsist on Universal Credit payments that are so low that destitution and eviction become very real prospects. She said, “The Government must also recognise the specific challenges faced by older jobseekers, many of whom are becoming unemployed for the first time, and those based in especially hard-hit places. Reimposing sanctions now is punitive and counter-productive when jobseekers need support.” The Tory Government strategy of deliberate cruelty, blaming and shaming job seekers under threat of sanction to bully them into finding work was always totally unacceptable, but even more so now that there were so few jobs.
Dodds was not impressed by the extent the Tory Government’s investment, she said that, “However, core elements are missing. For example, £50 million to support retrofitting in social homes is just a seventh of what the Conservatives said they would be spending every year. The muddled confusions over stamp duty over the past 48 hours reflect a broader lack of strategy when it comes to house building, particularly for genuinely affordable and social homes. Overall, the UK’s green investment package barely touches the sides of other countries’ commitments. Even with what was announced today, it only equates to just over the value of Germany’s investment in one green technology alone: hydrogen. The Committee on Climate Change has indicated how far behind the UK is in the race to decarbonise. Failure to heed its recommendations is not only damaging to our planet, but it also cuts us out of leading the development of the key technologies of the future.”
Dodds was also alarmed by the total lack of conditionality, saying, “The Conservatives are still refusing to impose conditions on investment to ensure that it contributes to the goal of net zero and that it supports local jobs, uses local firms, leads to sustainable skilled employment in local areas and prevents the use of tax havens and other forms of asset stripping.” This is a serious concern given this Tory Government’s track record of abysmal spending decisions based on the desire to placate wealthy Tory donors at the tax payer’s expense.
Dodds was determined to insist that there would not be a return to the pain and hardship of austerity. She said, “If the Chancellor really wants to ‘build back better’, he must prevent a rerun of the past. From 2010 onwards, we have seen how families’ resilience has been eroded. We entered this crisis with a quarter of families lacking even £100 in savings. In a typical classroom of 30, nine children are growing up in poverty, and our economy is the most regionally unequal in Europe. Our local authorities continue to be cut to the bone, with many standing on the brink of bankruptcy as we speak, and rather than the promise that our NHS and social care services would get whatever they needed this winter, to weather a potential second wave, those words were conspicuously absent from the Chancellor’s speech just now.” Dodds attacked Tory hypocrisy saying, “Politicians in this House have gone out on our doorsteps to clap key workers, while the lowest paid have struggled to keep a roof over their heads.”
Dodds was adamant in her demands, “We must have a new settlement for the future: an end to poverty pay for our social care workers and those who clean our hospitals and deliver our groceries. We want a recognition of the value of the work of those who have been taken for granted for far too long.” She warned that, “There were some initial press reports that the Government were due to announce generalised tax increases or cuts to services this autumn, which were contradicted by the Prime Minister, who rejected whatever had apparently been briefed out by the Treasury; that has happened quite a few times. I say to the Government that, if they do increase taxes during the recovery and cut back on the public services that we all rely on, it will damage demand and inhibit our recovery.”
The Labour Shadow Chancellor was cynical about Tory grandstanding saying, “the Prime Minister, tried to claim the mantle of FDR;” but it had elicited a few embarrassing comparisons. Unlike the phrase coined by FDRs successor Dodds captured the more fitting Tory ethos, “The buck stops anywhere but here!” She concluded by reiterating the Tory Government’s most serious flaw in dealing with the Covid crisis, warning, “they cannot escape their responsibilities: to govern is to choose. It is to choose to finally sort out test, track and isolate, to prevent unnecessary additional unemployment and to build the green jobs of the future.” It seemed almost incongruous for the Chancellor to thank his opponent for her robust criticism of Tory policy, but it was well deserved.
Sunak defensively claimed that, “Those are the values of this Conservative Government;” as if compassionate conservative were not an oxymoron. He pledged that, “We will make sure that no one is left behind during this time of national crisis, and we will ensure that those who are most vulnerable get the support and protection that they deserve.” ‘Rich Rishi’ justified his colander of conditionality and the broad brush approach with the desire for speed of implementation; a few restrictions and other details were to follow… Offended by the Labour assertion to have initiated the future jobs fund scheme that the Tories closed, Sunak insisted his kick-starter scheme was bigger! In reality what was offered could best be described as a ‘damp squib’ and a serious distraction from the dire state in which our nation finds itself following the Covert 2019 Rigged Election. We need to Investigate the Vote and remove Cumming. He is still running this shit show, but extricate him and it might just pull the pin on the Tory Government grenade! DO NOT MOVE ON!