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Chancellor's Spring Statement fails families who need help now

Published date
In the midst of the biggest wages and bills crisis in living memory, Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement has failed families who need help now.

He didn’t stand up for families. He didn’t take the opportunity to stand up to the bosses who've sacked hundreds of workers at P&O. And he didn’t set out a plan to get wages rising – leaving the average workers facing a wage cut of over £500 this year.

Last week, we set out what we needed to see from the Chancellor to get a spring statement that is fit for purpose.

We were looking for the Chancellor to:

  • Deliver an immediate boost to pay
  • Fund efforts towards a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine
  • Take additional measures to support families in the UK with rising energy prices
  • Deliver the long-term changes needed for a high-wage, high skill, high productivity economy

Below we set out how the spring statement matched up to our tests and assess what it means for working people.

The Chancellor didn’t deliver an immediate boost to pay

Workers’ pay prospects from the statement don’t look good. The OBR forecasts real weekly wages to fall by £11p/w (2.0 per cent) in 2022, and fall again in 2023. This will put wages back below their 2008 levels (after a brief recovery in 2021), where they’ll stay until 2025. And even this contains some optimistic wage forecasts, with the OBR forecasting pay before inflation to rise by as much as 5.9 per in Q3 2022.

The OBR forecasts that the 2022-23 financial year will see the biggest fall in living standards since records began in 1956-57, explaining that the “failure of nominal earnings growth to keep pace with rising inflation” is a “key factor” in this.

It adds that the policy measures announced since October only “offset a third of the overall fall in living standards that would otherwise have occurred in the coming 12 months”.

But there was no action to tackle falling pay in the Chancellor’s statement: nothing on raising the minimum wage, or funding public sector pay rises, and no recognition that collective bargaining (and union presence) is the most sustainable way to get wages rising.

Measures to support families in the UK with rising energy prices and the cost of living were totally inadequate

The spring statement offers little good news for struggling families, especially those in receipt of benefits.

  • Benefits uprating

Worst of all there was no increase in the basic rate of benefits. As it stands, the standard allowance for Universal Credit and legacy benefits is set to rise by 3.1 per cent in April 2022. But this is far below the latest inflation figure (CPI is 6.2% in Feb 2022 and RPI is 8.2%), with inflation forecast to rise higher in the coming months.

This will leave those on benefits facing a real terms cut at a time when energy bills are rising by 54 per cent. The families who need the most help have been left totally out in the cold by the Chancellor today.

The decision not to cut benefits in real terms will particularly impact those who are unable to work. This reflects a wider ignorance of the equalities impact of the cost of living crisis.

We also didn’t see a reversal of the decision to suspend the state pension triple lock. The decision to abandon the pensions triple lock will cost pensioners almost £500 a year. Pensioners are particularly vulnerable to price hikes as they spend a higher percentage of their income on food and fuel.

  • Targeted support

The big new announcement for targeted support for low-income households was £500 million in additional funding for the Household Support Fund – a temporary discretionary fund run by local authorities. This scheme was set to end this month, and the initial funding was £500 million.

This extra money is worth less than £10 each to the six million families claiming Universal Credit – in the unlikely event they hear about it and are able to jump through the hoops needed to claim it. And contrast this £500 million to the £10 billion cut to benefit spending in 2022-23 as a result of not uprating benefits in line with inflation.

  • Income tax and national insurance threshold

Changes to tax cuts won’t help the families who need it most now. Raising the National Insurance threshold mostly benefits middle earners and, compared to increasing benefits payments, does little to help those with low income. This can be seen in the chart below, from the Resolution Foundation.

And promises of income tax cuts tomorrow do nothing for families facing cuts to their living standards now.

  • Childcare and sick pay

Recent TUC research found that 1 in 3 parents with pre-school children spend more than a third of their pay on childcare. And yet the spring statement made no mention of childcare –or even children.

And the Chancellor has missed another opportunity to raise sick pay and make it available to all. Living with Covid requires decent sick pay for all, yet we’re still waiting for government to take action on this.

  • VAT-free insulation and solar panels

Alongside this was the removal of the 5% Value Added Tax currently applied to building materials, like home insulation and solar panels. But this only benefits families who own a home and can afford to renovate it anyway. 

The Chancellor should’ve taken the opportunity to invest in home retrofits at scale. Improving the average UK home's energy efficiency to band C would reduce the country's gas demand by 15% and cut hundreds of pounds off fuel poor homes' energy bills. A massive social homes retrofits programme, delivered by local authorities, could also create over a quarter million good jobs over two years. But here again the Chancellor failed to act.

  • Transport

The 5p cut on fuel duty does next to nothing to support those at the sharp end of the wages and bills crisis. Analysis by NEF estimates that a third of this tax cut will go directly to the richest 20% of households, while the poorest 20% will on average only receive £5 per month. To make transport truly affordable for everyone, Government should be expanding bus and rail services in the public sector.

The Chancellor didn’t talk about the long-term changes needed for a high-wage, high skill, high productivity economy

 We heard nothing on reforms to corporate governance, industrial strategy or expanding the public sector workforce to deliver the decent public services we need to level up.

The Chancellor did announce a review of the apprenticeship levy. We believe that any changes to the levy should focus on significantly increasing the number of high-quality apprenticeships and widening access to groups facing long-standing barriers. A review must not be an exercise in allowing employers to duck their responsibilities on apprenticeships.

And much more than this is urgently needed to tackle the shortfall in training, including increased government skills funding and new workplace training rights to expand opportunities for everyone to upskill and retrain.

The Chancellor didn’t stand up to the scandalous behaviour by bosses P&O

The Chancellor talked about security but did nothing to take on the bosses who take every measure to undermine their workers’ job security. He could’ve made it clear that no employer who treats workers with the contempt shown by P&O Ferries would receive a penny of public money until they reinstate their workforce, including by taking freeports contracts off DP World, the parent company of P&O.

Yet once again the Chancellor failed to mention the issues that matter to working people.

The government’s response to those fleeing conflict and war is inadequate

The Spring statement document outlines the £400m in humanitarian support the government has given to Ukraine, and says it has committed “to provide local authorities with £10,500 per person for support services, and between £3,000 and £8,755 per pupil for education services depending on phase of education, as well as £350 per month for sponsors for up to 12 months”.

But it’s clear that the government’s support for the people fleeing war and conflict is worse than inadequate. The Ukraine for Homes scheme is no substitute for a properly funded system that provides universal refugee protection.  And yesterday, the Government’s nationality and borders bill, passed a vital stage in the House of Commons, meaning that those fleeing conflict may find themselves treated as criminals and deported, instead of finding sanctuary.

The Chancellor let families down today.

Families are facing soaring bills at a time when their incomes have been squeezed by years of wage cuts and attacks on the social security system. The wages and bills crisis is a consequence of decisions taken by successive governments. Today the Chancellor chose to make the pain last for longer.

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