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Rishi Sunak at Covid press conference

Rishi Sunak at Covid press conference. Photo: Number 10 / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

A few increases in state spending shouldn’t disguise a budget which offers nothing for working class people, argues Alex Snowdon

Don't be fooled by the hype. Rishi Sunak's budget had little, if anything, for working class people. Exceptional times require some exceptional measures, like extending the furlough scheme, but this does not mean a titling of the balance from the wealthy to the vast majority. 

The crisis arising from the pandemic prompts some measures that the Tories would be unlikely to adopt in 'normal' times. Extending furlough until September is one (though, as before, put at 80% of pay instead of the 100% needed to maintain people's living standards). 

An extension of the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit is another; so is the one-off payment of £500 for working tax credit claimants. The Universal Credit extension is almost certainly just postponing a damaging and unpopular decision to reduce it. 

These are necessary measures in such a crisis as this, either for sustaining jobs and businesses or for avoiding complete destitution for growing numbers of people. They are not generous or redistributive. How about extending free school meals eligibility to parents receiving Universal Credit, for example? How about a living wage of £10 an hour instead of a measly increase to £8.91 an hour? Hardly radical demands, but still too much for Sunak. 

The substantial rise in corporation tax - from 19% to 25% - is welcome, but it has previously been at exceptionally low levels compared to many other countries. The Tories previously slashed rates - this is merely reversing that trend (for the record, corporation tax peaked at 52% in the early 1980s). 

There has been some scaremongering about the tax changes in recent days - amazingly, from sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party - but this is a tax on profits that businesses can afford. It should be complemented by serious wealth taxes to raise vitally-needed revenue, and to redistribute to those who need it, but Sunak is keen to protect his wealthy friends. He is also reluctant to infringe on the affluent, upper middle class elements who provide the core of the Tory voting base. 

There were some announcements of infrastructure spending and of a new UK Infrastructure Bank (with £12 billion in capital initially). But the plans are not on the scale required to address a rise in unemployment of 700,000 in the last year. They are not enough to constitute a serious Green New Deal with a million climate-friendly jobs. 

This is the Tories' version of state intervention: some investment to stimulate the economy, but not nearly enough to eliminate unemployment, address the massive challenge of climate change, or substantially boost productivity. The growth forecasts announced by Sunak were dismal. The measures announced today - around jobs and infrastructure - will not be enough to transform the situation. 

What is there for the workers who have kept everything going during the pandemic? Nothing. No commitment to increasing the pay of key workers - they will instead almost certainly face a pay squeeze. 

There is absolutely nothing for schools, which are struggling with increased Covid costs. The Tory failure to invest any resources - staff, space, support - to help make schools safer continues unaltered. The obsession with full reopening of schools is not matched by any practical support for making it safe and sustainable. 

There was next-to-nothing on social care or welfare. Nothing on boosting public services, for example by reversing some of the catastrophic cuts to local government spending over the last decade. An uptick in state investment shouldn't disguise the brutal reality that austerity has never really gone away. 

Keir Starmer's weak opposition means that Sunak and the Tories can largely get away with little real scrutiny and challenge. But this budget represents a failure to match the scale of the challenges we face. It protects business to a large degree, giving the kind of economic stimulus that even the Tories can see is essential, but with nothing to redistribute wealth and tackle inequality. 

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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