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Nadia Whittome

Nadia Whittome: ‘Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget is a slap in the face for Britain’s workers’

Nadia Whittome breaks down a budget that does little to help those in need – nor fix the mess of the Tories’ own making.

16 Mar 2023

It’s another year, another Chancellor, and another Budget with no plan to fix our society or even provide the bare minimum that many people need. With the new Spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt becomes the latest Tory rearranging deckchairs as the Titanic sinks, with the only people allowed in the lifeboats being high-earners and huge corporations. Let me take you through what it all means.

First, let’s look at the so-called “positives”. The energy price guarantee will stay the same, instead of increasing. This means annual energy bills of £2,500 for a typical family. But with bills up over £1,000 since 2020, this is nowhere near good enough. They need to be lowered, not frozen.

The notorious Work Capability Assessment has been scrapped. This process, used to determine whether someone was “able” to work, caused hundreds of thousands of disabled and chronically ill people untold suffering and hardship. But the details on what will replace it are unclear, and with Conservative governments treating disabled people disgracefully, many will be waiting to see before any celebration.

“Chancellor Jeremy Hunt becomes the latest Tory rearranging deckchairs as the Titanic sinks, with the only people allowed in the lifeboats being high-earners and huge corporations”

The Chancellor has claimed that a central aim of this Budget is to get people “back to work”, and perhaps his biggest policy announcement was 30 hours free childcare for children as young as nine months, instead of just three and four-year-olds under the current policy. 

But while an improvement, with a staggered introduction it won’t be fully implemented until after the next general election. A 9-month-old today will not be eligible for the full childcare package until Sept 2025 – by which time they would be old enough to receive 30 hours free under the current system anyway. It will also be available for just 38 weeks a year (spoiler, most people don’t get 14 weeks holiday).

Proper childcare should be central to creating a future based on equality, where women aren’t forced to stay at home because nursery fees are higher than their wages. But we need to go far further. More generous parental leave, that includes the ability for fathers and partners to stay-at-home, is key to breaking down gendered divisions. We should integrate childcare with the education system, as they do in places like Finland and Estonia, to help with funding and standards. And we should make it easier for parents to spend more time with their kids, through the introduction of a four day working week with no loss of pay.

The Chancellor also announced pension tax changes supposedly designed to stop people retiring, but which are really an expensive bung to the 1%. When working class people need significant government spending on welfare and services to survive in a cost of living crisis, this – alongside a £9 billion tax cut to corporations – is a slap in the face to those being told that more support is unaffordable. Labour has committed to scrapping it. 

Elsewhere, Hunt’s drive to get people “back to work” targeted people on benefits through a tougher sanctions regime. All the evidence suggests sanctioning people who receive social security is not only ineffective at getting them into employment, but is also damaging to the health, finances and wellbeing of those affected. Once again, we have a government for the rich, attacking the poor. 

“Once again, we have a government for the rich, attacking the poor”

But what about the opposite problem? Those who are in employment but cannot afford to live. The people working 60 hours a week, taking second jobs, as they struggle to pay their bills. Real wages are lower than in 2008 – when I was 11 years old.

In the biggest day of walkouts in decades, 700,000 workers up and down the country were on strike, from teachers and civil servants, to junior doctors and railway staff. They were calling for cash, not claps – the Chancellor gave them nothing. 

Action to tackle the climate crisis fell far short, focused only on carbon capture storage and nuclear power. It paled in comparison to Labour’s commitments to 100% clean power by 2030, retrofitting 19 million homes and £28 billion a year in green investment. 

Also nowhere to be seen were changes to Free School Meals, despite 800,000 children living in poverty continuing to miss out. There wasn’t anything to improve the affordability of housing, and despite 2.6 million people having unmet needs, Hunt didn’t mention social care once. 

“The truth is that these are the dying days of a Conservative government”

With services crumbling and poverty soaring, it’s like the country has turned up to A&E with blood pouring out of our head, and the Chancellor’s only solution is to put a wet paper towel on it – which incidentally might happen if the Tories continue to allow the NHS to collapse.

The truth is that these are the dying days of a Conservative government. Having cut society to shreds through austerity, crashed the economy and embroiled themselves in corruption scandals, they know they’re on course to lose the next election.

Instead of attempting to fix the mess they’ve created, the Tories are now hell-bent on stoking fear – deflecting people’s attention from the real culprits to manufactured cultural conflicts. But demonising refugees, attacking trans people and railing against the “wokerati” will not raise wages or lower housing costs. And polling shows that material, economic issues are what people now care about most. All the Tories have left is hate – and it won’t save them.