Spring Budget - Dismal prospects for an unequal, divided Britain

spring budget

The change of Chancellor and the decision to leave the European Union (EU) did not alter the timeworn formula underpinning the Budget speech. As usual there is little correlation between the exaggerated claims for the state of the British economy and the stark, grim reality of millions more working class people driven into low-paid jobs, confronting failing public services and increasing poverty. David Yaffe reports.

On 8 March, in his first Budget speech, Chancellor Philip Hammond spoke of a British economy that ‘has continued to confound the commentators with robust growth’; which ‘delivers further investment in our public services’; ‘extends opportunity to all our young people’; has ‘a labour market delivering record employment’, and ‘a public sector deficit down by over two-thirds’ as it ‘continues the task of getting Britain back to living within its means’. It is an economy, he said, that provides ‘a strong and stable platform’ for Britain’s negotiations to exit the EU while ‘building the foundations of a stronger, fairer, more global Britain’.1 The reality is markedly different.

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In-work poverty in Britain hits record high

Durham teaching assistants

In imperialist Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, the number of people afflicted by in-work poverty has hit a record high. One in every eight workers, 12%, lives in poverty, exposing as lies six years of cynical pledges from the Conservative Party to ‘restore the link between hard work and reward’. The government’s real agenda has been to divide and rule by attempting to drive a wedge between ‘strivers’ and ‘scroungers’. But as an annual state of the nation report conclusively shows, for the poorest sections of the working class in Britain, the working and the unemployed are equally tormented by the rule of capital. Barnaby Philips reports.

Published on 7 December 2016, the Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2016 report,* written by the New Policy Institute on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, revealed that the number of working people living in poverty in 2015 increased to 7.4 million, up from 6.3 million in 2010. This represents a record high of 55% of the overall 13.5 million of the population living below the official poverty line. The vast majority – four-fifths – of the adults in working households are employed, some 3.8 million workers. The remaining fifth predominantly look after children.

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The gig economy: new name for old exploitation

Deliveroo drivers strike

The increasing casualisation of employment, along with new online platforms for marketing labour and goods, have generated new terms which are celebrated, debated and decried by politicians, commentators and journalists. Central among these is the ‘gig economy’ – where self-employed workers are paid mainly by individual jobs or ‘gigs’ performed, with jobs often communicated through a smartphone app or website. Despite the supposed empowerment at the heart of this model, exploitative big businesses – such as delivery company Deliveroo and taxi firm Uber – have become emblematic of the gig economy. Workers usually have few employment rights, but resistance has begun, with Deliveroo drivers organised in the International Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union demanding union recognition, and a recent employment tribunal ruling on 28 October that Uber cannot categorise its drivers as self-employed, and must pay them the national minimum wage. The gig economy is a vague concept which links loosely into wider casualisation – notably the rising use of zero hours and temporary contracts in fields such as care work, retail, catering and, increasingly, higher education. Luke Meehan looks at what the gig economy means for capitalists, workers, and resistance.

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Brexit: weak British economy faces further ruin

brexit economy

British and European imperialism are in turmoil over Brexit and its impact on the ever-deepening worldwide crisis of capitalism. The economic costs of Britain leaving the EU will be high for both parties. For Britain, they could be disastrous. In his Autumn Statement on 23 November the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, revealed that the black hole in the public finances requires an additional £122bn of borrowing by the end of 2020/21 – up from the £66bn forecast in July 2016 and even higher than the £100bn he was expected to announce. Despite almost a decade of savage austerity, the £10bn budget surplus promised by Hammond’s disgraced predecessor George Osborne is a distant fantasy. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) put £59bn of the extra borrowing down to the referendum result and now expects even slower economic growth, weaker investment, falling tax revenues and rising living costs. Amid much uncertainty the outlook will almost doubtlessly worsen again after Britain officially leaves the EU. Barnaby Philips reports.

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G4S: prisons, housing, employment


From its discreet, tightly guarded HQ on the fifth floor of a building in Victoria Street central London, and its Security Services offices in Crawley (near Gatwick), G4S direct its global operations. Operations involve protecting the wealth of corporations, powerful individuals, and governments. It protects government institutions and facilities, and provides back-office police support, fast-response squads, alarm systems and surveillance, security software integration, airport security screening, immigration services, and transportation and imprisonment of detainees. Profits derive from taking custody of the most marginalised, most vulnerable, and the most alienated globally, and from maximising the exploitation of staff: that means skimping on training, paying the bare minimum wages, zero hours contracts, clamping down on unions, recruiting on the cheap, and constantly stretching employees to their limits in high-pressure workplaces. The result is a reliance on brutality in an atmosphere of casual racism.

In 2011, the government were embarrassed enough to promise to end detention of asylum seekers’ children. At the time of writing, children continue to be detained at Cedars immigration detention centre in Crawley under the control of G4S, or ‘pre-departure accommodation centre’, as they would have us call it, but they are due to move detainees to another facility. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, stated ‘there is no hiding the fact that this is still a family detention unit’. Heaven Crawley, professor of international migration, wrote ‘it is important to call a spade a spade. To repackage detention as “pre-departure accommodation” is disingenuous. Families with children will be taken to the facility against their will’.

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