Hammond's uncertain pre-Brexit budget: we're meant to pay for their losses?

23 November 2016

This "Autumn Statement" was supposed to be different. At least that's what prime minister Theresa May led everyone to expect. Didn't she say that despite - and because of - the Brexit vote, her government would aim to help the many who are "just about managing"?

Of course nobody really believed her. This side of a revolution, all governments, no matter which party is in power, are going to rule in the interests of capital, even if they tell us they're ruling in the "interests of all" and the poor in particular!

That said, the context is much worse than usual. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast lower growth - 1.4% for 2017 instead of the 2.2% previously forecast - and £60bn more borrowing needed over the next 5 years. This would push government debt to 90.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (total output) in 2017-2018, as a direct result of the Brexit vote. In other words, the economy is in big trouble, even if the government pretends otherwise. The pound's value, which fell after the vote, hasn't recovered. Prices are up and rising, affecting everyone's pockets.

So of course, Hammond's budget was still an "austerity" budget. And it did little or nothing for the "just about managing" - or "Jams", as the media calls them - let alone those who are "not managing at all"!

And all the big borrowing is not in aid of those "left behind" and having to use food banks. No, the handouts are strictly for company shareholders and the bankers. The public is being whacked for an additional £27bn alone, to help the largest banks after the Brexit vote hit their share prices!

Workers left behind

So first and most revealing, the biggest handout to the bosses: the corporation tax level - that is, the tax on company profits is reduced (as previously planned by Osborne), to 17% - its lowest level ever! On the other hand, there are no hand-ins to help fund the severe NHS deficits or cut the 3.9m waiting list. Never fear, the bosses profits are too dear!

As for the "Jams", well, Universal Credit cuts have been lessened by only a tiny amount - the "taper" cutting in-work benefits will kick in at a slightly higher rate of earnings (2%!), but the cut will still go ahead.

While Hammond admits that productivity is very low in Britain, and that workers work the longest hours, he perversely "incentivises" those earning the least (and getting in-work benefits as a result), to work more hours! This, when many "Jams" are already working two or three jobs and sometimes in the so-called "gig" economy as "self-employed" workers, under the minimum wage!

And by the way, if there is a projected fall in unemployment, which they claim, no wonder. They call working one hour per week, "employment"!

As for the rise in the minimum wage - which Osborne misnamed the "National Living Wage", this was already meant to happen in April - going up from £7.20 to £7.50. But anyway, who can live on that? Next year, who knows how high prices will have risen? So workers will be even worse off than they are now.

Cathy still can't come home

There is something else which reveals the poverty of this government's philosophy: the way it pretends to tackle the housing crisis. Letting agents are to be prevented from charging fees (already the case in Scotland). But isn't the real problem, not (just) these fees, but the exorbitantly high rents which private landlords charge, given the on-going housing shortage? Surely private rents should be controlled - as they are in many rich countries, including Germany? This would hit two birds with one stone - reducing housing costs for private individuals, but also for councils, whose low housing stock means they have to pay private landlords to house their council tenants! But don't expect any policy which would affect the pockets of this crooked private sector.

What is more, the government has no plans to ensure enough good quality social housing is built. It aims to spend just £1.4bn on "affordable homes" (so, not even for rent!) and £2.3bn on "infrastructure". Given the scale of the problem this is a tiny drop in the ocean.

And while fuel duty is frozen, car and home insurance premium taxes are to rise, so what you might gain on the swing, you lose on the roundabout! This alone will apparently increase household bills by at least £51...

But never mind that. The commentators think Hammond is proving perfect for the job - of bluffing the government's way through the coming, worsening crisis, which would have been bad without a Brexit, but is now ten times worse.

All this would be less of a problem if the burden was carried by those who caused the crisis. But the working class, including the Jams and those not managing at all, is being told to pay for it. And this is happening at a point in history where "pauperism" is returning: when workers do not earn enough, no matter how hard they work, to survive, and when homelessness is increasing as never before.

However the tables can be turned. This is not some far-fetched idea. The working class has been organising effectively ever since the early 19th century. It is a question of putting into action our capacity to come together in numbers - and refusing to pay for this crisis, made by the bosses and their politicians. We can do it - and we must do it.