Last week, Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak explained that when it came to spending, he was a "conservative" - as if we did not know - and that since all this money at his fingertips was not "his" (very true!), it was going to have to be paid back! How he works that out is hard to understand, since taxes are paid to the state precisely so they can be spent for the public good - aren't they?
Of course, this little overture of his was meant to be a warning of cuts to come. And conveniently, government economists have worked out that state borrowing is still at record levels, even if it is a bit lower than expected.
So, one year ago, it was at its highest level since WW2, but today we are told by the BBC, that "borrowing over the past year has now pushed government debt up to nearly £2.2 trillion, or about 99.2% of GDP - a rate not seen since the early 1960s."
Not that huge figures like that can mean much to normal people. But Sunak has already allocated £16 billion/year less to public services, compared to his pre-pandemic plan. Of course, since Covid is still with us and multiplying, he has reassured everyone that the NHS budget remains "ring fenced". Which means it won't be cut, maybe, but it certainly won't be increased with respect to nurses' pay: their 1% "rise" looks even more pitiful given that inflation (CPIH, the government's preferred measure) has risen to 2.1%, and the Retail Price Index is now over 3%!
Cuts on their agenda
We are also told that cuts in pensions are being looked at. And in the context of the launching of a future state-run "Great British Railways", it turns out that this will be not-so-great, since there is an immediate plan to cut £2bn off the rail budget. Union leaders have already been co-opted into finding ways to help make jobs and conditions cuts!
Of course, there is no restraint being shown when it comes to the bosses. Construction contractors building the controversial high speed railway, HS2 - whose cost was an already ridiculous £106bn - are to be given an additional £1.7bn because of "Covid delays". So this money can be splashed out on a project many would call an unnecessary luxury, when the excuse for cost-cutting on the existing (essential) railways is that fewer people are catching trains!
Another unrestrained handout is the £37bn on the malfunctioning privatised Covid “Test and Trace” and the additional £3.7bn given to “f*****g hopeless” Hancock's family and friends, among others, for Covid-related business contracts!
All this to say that there is apparently plenty of money to throw around when it comes to the bosses, and no expenses are spared! While workers are being told by the likes of former business secretary Andrea Leadsom, that they should get back to work and stop “shirking" on the (ever-dwindling) furlough! Yes furlough is now going down to 70%, then 60%, before ending in September, thus supplying the bosses with yet another excuse to cut jobs, if they needed one.
Fighting for a working class recovery!
The Resolution Foundation reports that over the past year, the proportion of workers on low pay (according to their definition, earning less than 2/3 median pay) fell to its lowest level in 42 years! They go on to say that by March this year, more than 21% of workers on the lowest pay had either lost their job, or lost hours and pay due to the crisis, or were furloughed.
Of course, this comes as no great revelation. Before the pandemic, precarious “employment” was the order of the day for any young worker trying to find a job. And that means being on the lowest of low pay. Now, after 18 months of pandemic, it is reported that 20% of low-paid workers (on the minimum wage) have an insecure job, are either on a zero hours contract, a temporary contract, or working too few hours to make a living. And most have no holiday or sick pay. In fact, many did not even qualify for the furlough scheme.
So, if there has been any of this “levelling up” which Johnson talks about, it has been a levelling up entirely for the bosses and private capital. Because every subsidy and every penny of furlough has compensated the capitalists for any losses they may have “suffered” as a result of the pandemic. No wonder their recovery is already underway!
It goes without saying that there are no free handouts for workers. So what about a “recovery” for the working class? If it is to happen, it will mean uniting our forces across all of our many categories - permanent, temp, agency, zero-hours, contractor, subcontractor - and then fighting for it! And being aware that we cannot expect the union officials (maybe with a few exceptions!) to be there to help us. We will have to organise this fight ourselves, on the shopfloor. The sooner, the better.