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THIS week’s Budget will be the test of Tory claims to want to “build back better” after the pandemic, the TUC warned today.
The calls to work with unions on raising pay and public investment came as part of the union body’s submission to the Treasury before Wednesday’s Spending Review.
It says that the current chaos in Britain’s energy markets, at the petrol pumps, and in “our increasingly erratic climate” shows what happens when government fails to plan for the future.
It backs a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour, a reversal of the universal credit cut, an end to the public-sector pay freeze and measures to tackle the climate crisis.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce his Spending Review alongside his second Budget of the year, which he said will focus on “looking to the future and building a stronger economy for the British people.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that the announcement represents a big test for the government.
“Longstanding problems that hold Britain back must be fixed, like low pay and insecure work,” she said.
“We must see concrete plans to build a stronger, more resilient economy, backed by investment.
“Public services are essential to the resilience our economy needs. They must be better funded, with good pay and conditions to attract and keep high-quality staff.
“The Spending Review must deliver the funding to prove that this government is genuinely committed to building back stronger services.”
Ms O’Grady warned that “too much of our economy has been taken over by business models that profit from low pay and denying workers’ rights.
“That must end. The Chancellor must set out plans to rebuild our economy in a new design with fair pay and decent jobs for all.”
The TUC leader also pointed out that “when government, business and unions worked together in the pandemic, we saved millions of jobs.
“Any serious plans to ‘build back better’ must be made with a seat for unions at the table, not just big corporations. And the Chancellor must make sure that ‘levelling up’ includes higher wages.”
Resolution Foundation research director James Smith said that the cost-of-living crisis must be one of the key issues in the Spending Review.
“So we have huge cuts in benefits … we have higher inflation and we have rising taxes, and all these … affect incomes, particularly the incomes of those at the bottom end,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“That impact is something the Chancellor must factor into his decision-making this week.”
Some £20 billion of spending has already been committed through 11 announcements over the weekend, including a cautiously welcomed £7bn for transport infrastructure outside of London.
The Department of Health and Social Care will receive £5bn over the next three years to fund research and development in areas such as genome sequencing and tackling health inequalities.
A £500 million investment in early years support was also announced, though Labour warned that it was simply a “smokescreen” for the Tories’ failure to support families in the past.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said that ripping up Sure Start centres – funding for which has fallen by more than two thirds since they were established by Labour in 2009 – was an “act of criminality.”
She also said that there was a “huge gaping chasm” between the government’s rhetoric on transport infrastructure in the north of England and its delivery of it.
Mr Sunak did not rule out tax rises before the next election, and rejected a call from footballer Marcus Rashford to extend the free school meals programme for the next three years.
The Manchester United forward joined supermarket bosses and food industry leaders to demand that ministers continue to provide meals to vulnerable children even when they are not in the classroom.
In a joint letter in the Sunday Times, they said: “Better jobs are the route out of poverty, and the virtue of these children’s food schemes is that when working families shore up their income they can buy school and holiday meals themselves.
“Until this happens, surely equality of opportunity and levelling up begin with guaranteeing that every child in Britain can eat well — at least once a day.”
But Mr Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that, as other support such as the furlough scheme had also been brought to an end, so should the provision of free school meals in the holidays.
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