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They have Empty Hearts, Our Kids have Empty Plates – PROTEST

Maggie stole OUR milk, now they want to steal our kids free school dinners. Merry Christmas from The Tory Party! Empty plate protest outside
Maggie stole OUR milk, now they want to steal our kids free school dinners. Merry Christmas from The Tory Party!

If you can attend please do so outside the offices of Chris Green MP (Bolton West) and Mark Logan MP (Bolton North East) at 9:00am Friday 30th October. Their addresses are listed above.

Don’t forget to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

If you’re unable to attend, please either:

Take a photo of yourself holding a plate with a message about FSM, or, make a video of yourself holding a plate with a message saying why you support our campaign for FSM during the half term and Xmas breaks.

The photos and videos will appear on our website:

Here’s a photo of the empty plate protest outside not so Christian Wakeford MP’s office in Bury

Photo of the empty plate protest outside not so Christian Wakeford MP’s office in Bury.

Struggling with your Energy Bills?

Here’s some advice from WHICH to help you with your energy bills

NOTE: Energy suppliers are prevented from disconnecting your energy during lockdown, regardless of your ability to pay your energy bills.  If you find yourself unable to afford your bills, contact your supplier, rather than just cancelling your direct debit. You should be able to work out a plan that could include your bill payments and/or debt payments being reassessed, reduced or paused, though exact policies vary between suppliers.

To find out more visit: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/cutting-your-energy-bills/article/how-to-save-on-your-energy-bill/help-if-you-re-struggling-to-pay-your-energy-bill-aXsId8V8dMv4 – Which?

Jobs Support Scheme – Sunak Must Do Better!

Rishi Sunak has released his Job Support Scheme and upon scrutiny he must do Better

What is the Job Support Scheme? 

  • The Job Support Scheme will run for six months from 1 November.
  • It will top up salaries in companies which can’t take employees back full-time.
  • To be eligible, employees must work for at least one-third of their normal contracted hours.
  • For the hours not worked, the government and employer will each pay one-third of the remaining wages. This means the employee would get at least 77% of their pay. 

What other jobs help is on offer?

To minimise unemployment, the UK government will also give firms:

  • £1,000 for every furloughed employee kept on until at least the end of January
  • £1,500 for every out-of-work 16-24 year-old given a ”high quality” six-month work placement
  • £2,000 for every under-25 apprentice taken on until the end of January, or £1,500 for over-25s

But will it incentivise businesses to keep employees in work?

In an example where the employer has 3 staff, the demand has fallen by 2/3 those 3 staff would work 1/3 of their contracted hours but will be paid 55% of their wages by the employer, 22% by the treasury and take a hit for 23% of their wages.  So the employer gets 1 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) work but pays for 1.65 FTE.

If the employer dismissed two of the staff and just had one working full time then they would pay 1 FTE.

So what then will be the considerations for the employer?

It is likely that those highly skilled workers, along with those for whom it would be expensive to dismiss in terms of redundancy pay will be kept on, but low skilled workers will lose their jobs as there is no incentive to the employer for keeping them on. 

Again we see how strongly unionised workplaces will fair better than those non unionised ones 

What alternatives are there?

One simple answer is to scrap the £7.5bn JRB (Job retention bonus) which is paid to employers who retain workers the consideration being that those workers were likely to have been kept on anyway so the £1000 payment was unnecessary and should be used to meet the shortfall in wages for those workers only working 1/3 of the time. This short hours scheme will incentivise employers to keep those staff.

In Germany the Kurzarbeit, effectively a social insurance programme, and an alternative to redundancy. Under Kurzarbeit, employers reduce their employees’ working hours instead of laying them off. But the largest portion of the workers’ lost income is picked up by the state.

Better unemployment benefit in line with the rest of Europe or better still it would seem then that both the government and the employers have accepted the fate of the retail high street to be a bad one but if, as the CEO of next argues, this is so then why are we not embarking on mass training schemes to give people skills for the future whilst these wont necessarily be building solar and wind infrastructure they could well be within the internet based retail economy.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said that his latest measures, which will replace the job retention scheme that paid 80 per cent of furloughed employees’ wages, will not save masses of jobs from being lost.  Dodds said the “million-dollar question” was whether the wage support scheme would fail to incentivise employers to keep workers in their jobs.  She told Radio 4’s Today programme that “unemployment levels are rising very substantially, they’re going back towards 1980s levels.”

The Resolution Foundation think tank also warned that the “winter economic package” would not help turn the tide on unemployment.  Chief executive Torsten Bell said: “Design flaws mean that the new [scheme] will not live up to its promise to significantly reduce the rise in unemployment.”  He added: “Those mistakes could be addressed by scrapping the poorly targeted £7.5 billion job retention bonus, and using those funds to ensure the new support scheme gives firms the right incentives to cut hours rather than jobs.”

Trade Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady warned there is still “unfinished business.” She said: “Unworked hours under the scheme must not be wasted.  “Ministers must work with business and unions to offer high-quality retraining, so workers are prepared for the future economy.  “The government should target help at industries facing a tough winter, and provide more support for families most at risk of hardship and debt.” 

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka called the measures “akin to using a plaster to cover a gaping wound.”  “Our members in the commercial sector, aviation and culture are already being threatened with hundreds of redundancies, as employers seek to capitalise on the economic fallout from Covid-19,” he said.  “The Tories’ ideological opposition to increased state intervention is hurting the economy and costing people their livelihoods right now.”

Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) director Dr Faiza Shaheen called the announcement “too little to late” for those who have already lost their jobs, and for the sector’s hardest hit.   She said: “What Britain needs is a real budget that sets out how departmental spending would boost a recovery, generate jobs and provide real ‘level-up’ equality. We need more vision and a real industrial strategy.”  Dr Shaheen said the Conservatives’ approach to the economy is “increasingly looking chaotic and reactionary.”

Labour MP Richard Burgon called for a more radical approach, noting that Britain was facing the worst recession in Europe because of “systemic failings.”  He called for “a united programme of demands that we coordinate the whole left around: the left in parliament, the unions, the party membership and social movements,” calling for adoption of a zero-Covid strategy and Labour to campaign for a programme of public works and the Green New Deal to “force the government to change track on health and the economy.”

Author: 

Kevin Allsop, Treasurer, Bolton TUC

Wigan workforce solid in defence of pay & conditions!

Bolton TUC members with UNISON strikers outside The Coops Building in Wigan – Friday 1st October 2020

When Addaction members were transferred from the NHS they were promised that they would retain their rates of pay, but #WeAreWithYou (the new name for Addaction) have gone back on their word. As a result, following the appropriate process in which there was a 100% turnout and unanimous vote in favour of industrial action, the workforce took their first day of strike action on Friday 23rd August 2019. They continue to remain solid having now taken a total of sixteen days of strike action on each occasion receiving the support of the local Trades Council and other local trades unionists.

Members of Unite the Union & RMT also showed their support for Friday’s socially distanced picket line.

What’s at stake?

One member of UNISON said “We will lose an average of £7,870 each during the course of Wigan Council’s contract with We Are With You, with some of us losing out on as much as £10,974.”

“This is simply wrong and across five years, will suck £230,000 out of the local economy whilst We Are With You directs funding towards costly rebrands and its London headquarters.”

“We work hard for We Are With You in Wigan and Leigh to ensure that local people recover from addiction, regaining health, self esteem and becoming fully functioning members of our society.”

“We work in this field because we care and because it’s rewarding to support recovery, but we deserve to make a decent living.”

“Supporting people to overcome drug and alcohol addiction is an incredibly tough job and makes a difference for every single one of us in Wigan.  We deserve a decent wage for doing what is an important job for our communities.”

How can you help?

Sign and share our petition: https://www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/we-are-with-you-don-t-break-your-pay-promises

Post messages of support on social media: please hashtag #KeepYourPayPromise and #WeAreNOTWithYou and tag @WeAreWithYou and @NorthWestUNISON.

Stop the Covid Evictions

Bolton Against COVID Evictions (BACE) was set up specifically to reduce the impact of COVID 19 on the most vulnerable members of our community.

MISSION STATEMENT

No one should lose their home because of COVID 19 arrears yet Bolton faces a bow wave of COVID related evictions. 

We aim to help people stay in their homes through providing advice and support to tenants and by demanding that the Local Authority and Landlords fulfil their obligations and remain within the law.

We seek a permanent solution that will see council houses built and managed by the local authority.

PRESS RELEASE 21-09-2020

Monday the 21st September will see us in Bolton Town centre calling for the government to do more for those who will be threatened with eviction and calling upon Bolton Council to prepare for additional renters seeking emergency housing assistance from them.

In a very short time we have seen our support grow amongst Trade Union, Community and faith groups across Bolton who share our concerns and are proud to work alongside Greater Manchester Law Centre and Greater Manchester Tenants union.

The threat of eviction for those with COVID 19 arrears

Homelessness often has lifelong consequences for people.  The social and financial costs of homelessness and resettlement are huge and will fall to our already over stretched council.

Precarious employment, zero hour contracts, a shrinking jobs market and the worst sick pay in Europe all contribute to the increasing vulnerability of renters with many people struggling with in work poverty and just one pay packet away from destitution.  Giving people longer to pay only delays the inevitable, you cant pay 24 months rent with only 22 months pay

Israel has gone into the 2nd lockdown and we in Bolton are worried about the lack of testing and how that may allow a second wave to develop under our noses making many of our community even more vulnerable.

Families who are evicted often have their work, school and access to medical care disrupted too.

In her review of the ONS analysis by local area and socio-economic deprivation Bolton Councils Consultant in Public Health Lynn Donkin concluded that “Therefore we might expect to see disproportionate impact of COVID 19″

Government approach 

In March Robert Jenrick said that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”. But the government have done little more that to kick the can down the road which gives renters little comfort and we need to see a long term solution to the housing crisis.  Firstly by the halting evictions until the end of august then giving a 11th hour reprieve pushing that date back to 21st September and more recently banning evictions for six months the government have shown a lack of understanding and an unwillingness to come to the aid of renters as they did their friends in business.

The financial cost of evictions will fall upon the public purse and we demand an fully resourced intervention.

Bolton Council 

Have not assessed the potential number of evictions

Is unprepared for the additional evictions

Will end up overstretched unless they prepare

Will foot the bill for emergency accommodation

In a response to a member of our group the lead member for the council replied that 

We don’t know about possession orders because we don’t have a Mag’s court.

This is something that GM are looking at

1. We don’t know about possession orders because we don’t have a Mag’s court.

Possession orders are heard in County Court, not the Magistrates, Bolton has one within the combined courts.

The authorities duties under HRA extends the period an applicant is “threatened with homelessness” from 28 to 56 days, and in addition ensures that anyone that has been served with a valid section 21of the Housing Act 1988eviction notice that expires in 56 days or less is classed as “threatened with homelessness”

Prevention is the key here and hence our question about assessment of the problem and allocation of resources 

It is possible that a tenant does who does not have the correct advice who leaves when a landlord serves a notice could be deemed intentionally homeless and the council would claim that they therefore have not got a duty towards them

The advise is always stay put (unless a risk of harm)

2. This is something that GM are looking at

The duty falls to the council, and whilst there may be collaboration, you’d hope that there was, the duty remains with BMBC for its residents.

On its own website BMBC says

Preventing homelessness

There may be ways in which we can help to prevent you from being homeless.

If you’re having problems with any of the following, please get in touch with us:

Your landlord has asked you to leave……..

We can help you stay in your accommodation by offering:

A mediation service

Help with your money

Talking to your landlord on your behalf

Advising you of your rights and responsibilities

Support with your tenancy

Find alternative accommodation

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA) will be enacted from April 2018. … The Act places a number of new or strengthened duties on local authorities that are designed to ensure all households at risk of homelessness receive earlier and more effective interventions

The part of the HRA that we are most concerned with at this point is outlined in Policy Fact Sheet: Threatened with Homelessness clause 1, which we are most focused on extends the period an applicant is “threatened with homelessness” from 28 to 56 days, and in addition ensures that anyone that has been served with a valid section 21of the Housing Act 1988eviction notice that expires in 56 days or less is classed as “threatened with homelessness”

Landlords

We are calling upon Greater Manchester social housing landlords to pledge never to seek possession for rent arrears on “mandatory” grounds and hence reduce the risk of unjust evictions resulting from CV19 by making one significant commitment – 

A pledge not to issue rent arrears possession proceedings on mandatory grounds.

Author:

Kevin Allsop, Treasurer, Bolton TUC

Photos and videos from the Bolton Against Covid Evictions event in Victoria Square, Monday 21st September 2020.

Uber drivers win ‘historic’ gig-economy ruling

Morning Star Friday, February 19, 2021

TENS OF THOUSANDS of Uber private-hire drivers are in line for substantial compensation after the Supreme Court finally confirmed they are workers, not self-employed contractors.

Today’s unanimous decision by six judges — the fourth ruling against Uber in as many years — means the app’s drivers are entitled to holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and breaks.

But it also has major implications for workers across the gig economy who have been forced to accept bogus self-employed status.

Hailing the “historic” win, the GMB union’s Mick Rix told Uber to “stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up [your] empire.”

“This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members — but it’s ended in a historic win,” said national officer Mr Rix.

Lawyers Leigh Day, which represented GMB, calculated that “tens of thousands” of Uber drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 each.

“Uber has consistently suggested that the rulings only affect two drivers, but Leigh Day will be claiming compensation on behalf of the thousands of drivers who have joined its claim,” said Leigh Day partner Nigel McKay.

Uber took its case to the Supreme Court despite losing the initial employment tribunal case in 2016, an employment appeal tribunal in 2017 and at the Court of Appeal in 2018.

In today’s ruling, Lord Justice Leggatt argued the “remuneration paid to drivers for the work they do” was fixed by Uber and that the contractual terms on which drivers perform their services were “dictated” by the company.

“I think it clear that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that the claimant drivers were ‘workers’,” he said.

The ruling also rejected Uber’s claim that they should be paid only for time they spent with a paying customer in their vehicle.

Mark Cairns, an Uber driver in London for five years, said: “It’s been a long time coming but I’m delighted that we’ve finally got the victory we deserve.

“At the very least, we should have the same rights as any other workers and I’m very glad I’m part of the claim.”

James Farrar, one of the original tribunal claimants and now general secretary of the App Drivers and Couriers Union, predicted that the ruling would “fundamentally re-order the gig economy.”

“Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom. The reality has been illegally low pay, dangerously long hours and intense digital surveillance,” he said.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the ruling as “an important win for gig-economy workers and for common decency. Sham self-employment exploits people and lets companies dodge paying their fair share of tax.

“Unions will continue to expose nasty schemes that try and cheat workers out of the minimum wage and holiday pay.

“But we also need the government to step up to the plate. Ministers must use the much-delayed employment Bill to reform the law around worker status.”

STUC general secretary Roz Foyer described the outcome as “a win-win for workers and local economies” but warned that “as we speak, app giants will be formulating plans to have legislation changed, as they did in California last year.”

Labour shadow employment rights secretary Andy McDonald MP said the ruling was “testament to the hard work of the ADCU and GMB trade unions and drivers who have brought about this action.

“The Supreme Court has sent a very clear message that companies should not game the system by undercutting the rights of their employees,” Mr McDonald said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, welcoming the “landmark ruling,” said that gig-economy workers deserved “the same rights as other workers.

“Today is yet another reminder of the huge force for good that trade unions play in our society,” he added.

Press release – Proposed Budget Cuts

Bolton 2021 Budget

Bolton TUC is calling upon all elected members of Bolton Council to reject any proposal to make such massive cuts to the Bolton Budget

Such cuts will have devastating effects upon the most vulnerable people of Bolton and thrust hundreds into unemployment.

Councillors should be under no illusion that such cuts will reduce the quality of life of many of our neighbours and put unimaginable pressure upon carers and other statutory services which are already buckling under the pressure of the Pandemic.

The hundreds of council job losses will be compounded by the jobs losses of those who rely on those council staff to buy their services in the struggling retail and service sectors.

We have heard much from the prime minister about his levelling up agenda and indeed from the Bolton NE MP who declared the Boris had Boltons back, well now is the time to turn those sound bites into practical support for the people of Bolton.

It is time for councillors to set aside party politics and consider what their vote on Wednesday will mean, and it can only mean one of two things, either they want to send a clear message to central government that enough is enough and central government must intervene, or, they are happy to put hundreds of workers onto benefits and the most vulnerable people of Bolton into the worst hardship of their lifetimes.

Kevin Allsop

Secretary, Bolton TUC

In Solidarity with the Shrewsbury 24

Shrewsbury 24 Appeal Court Hearing 3rd and 4th February 2021

We have just spent two historic days in the Royal Courts of Justice, where three appeal court judges heard the appeals of the pickets. Terry Renshaw and John McKinsie Jones joined Campaign Researcher and Secretary, Eileen Turnbull, Campaign Chairperson Harry Chadwick, and Mark Turnbull campaign member in Court 4 to watch proceedings.

Read more

The impact of the pandemic on household finances

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The impact of the pandemic on household finances

The pandemic is having a significant impact on people’s household finances. Some will be saving money, due to no longer having to commute or due to discretionary spending being constrained while holidays, meals out and pub visits aren’t possible.

Others will be facing a hit to their income. Most seriously, many people have lost their jobs. The latest labour market data shows that unemployment is increasing and that the number of redundancies is at a record high[1].

The situation would have been much worse without the job retention scheme, which has helped to protect millions of jobs. At the peak of the first lockdown, 9 million people were furloughed, and 4 million people remain furloughed as of 31 December 2020[2]. While the job retention scheme has protected employment income, it has, however, required many workers to survive on just 80 per cent of their normal wages.

ONS survey data from October 2020 shows that around 4-in-10 furloughed employees in the private sector didn’t receive a top up to their wages[3]. The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), conducted in April 2020, found that low-paid workers were the most likely not to have their pay topped up. As a result, two million people were being paid below the minimum wage in April 2020, with around 1.3 million of these being furloughed employees on reduced pay[4].

The high number of employees pushed below the legal minimum wage reflects the fact that in April 2020, more than half of employees in the lowest decile of hourly earnings (earning less than £8.72 per hour) were furloughed and receiving reduced pay. The proportion of employees furloughed without being paid the top-up was highest in industries such as hospitality (39 per cent), the arts (27 per cent), and construction (26 per cent)[5].

In our National Workers Survey, a nationally representative survey of 2,231 people in England and Wales conducted by BritainThinks between 19th-29th November 2020, 10 per cent of respondents were on furlough. 7 per cent of respondents were on furlough without a top up to wages, compared to 3 per cent who were on furlough but getting wages topped up by their employer[6].

Another hit to household finances is increased costs caused by the pandemic. In particular, those with children are facing increased costs due to having their children at home. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation found that “families with children estimated to be in the lowest pre-pandemic income quintile were twice as likely to report an increase in spending (36 per cent) than a decrease (18 per cent)”. Reasons behind this include higher spending on food (which itself is becoming more expensive) and energy, the extra costs associated with home schooling, as well as having to find ways to entertain children[7].

Alongside this, at a time when many people will have to self-isolate, statutory sick pay (SSP) remains incredibly low at just £95.85 per week. Working people who have to self-isolate but receive either SSP or no sick pay at all will face big hits to their income. Average weekly earnings are currently £531[8], meaning that the average worker on SSP will face an 82 per cent drop in weekly pay in their first week of self-isolation.

Measuring the hit to household finances

Following our previous report on debt and sick pay[9], we’ve again asked working people about the impact of the pandemic on their household finances. We particularly asked about how the pandemic has impacted their level of disposable income, their level of debt, and whether they have enough money to get through each week.

Less disposable income


37 per cent of working people told us that their household’s level of disposable income has decreased since the start of the pandemic[10].

This has particularly impacted those on a low income. Half (50 per cent) of those earning less than £15,000 have said their level of disposable income has fallen since the pandemic began. This compares to three-in-ten (29 per cent) of those who earn more than £50,000 per year. A quarter (24 per cent) of those on higher incomes strongly disagreed that they’d seen a drop in their disposable income, compared to just 1-in-10 low-income workers.

69 per cent of furloughed workers and 89 per cent of recently redundant workers have seen a drop in their income, compared to 32 per cent of those in work as normal. As have those in insecure work (55 per cent) and those on benefits including Universal Credit (50 per cent). Looking at just those on Universal Credit, this rises to 62 per cent. Women are also more likely to report a drop in disposable income than men (41 per cent compared to 34 per cent).

Having to cut back

Unsurprisingly given the fall in disposable income, a third of workers (34 per cent) report having to cut back spending at the end of the week or month more since the pandemic began because they have run out, or might run out, of money. This means there has been no improvement of the situation since we asked the same question in early August, when 33 per cent of respondents to our survey told us they were having to cut back to make ends meet[11].

Following the same trends we saw among the workers more likely to be experiencing a fall in disposable income, those on a low income, those who have been furloughed or recently made redundant and those in insecure work are more likely to be cutting back:

  • 46 per cent of those earning less than £15,000 per year have been cutting back to make ends meet more since the pandemic began, compared to a quarter of those earning above £50,000 per year
  • 57 per cent of those who are furloughed and three-quarters (76 per cent) of those recently made redundant are cutting back, compared to 29 per cent of those in work as normal
  • 44 per cent of those in insecure work have had to cut back, compared to a third of those in secure work
  • As well as this, younger and middle-aged workers have been cutting back more. Four-in-ten (39 per cent) 18-24 year olds and a similar percentage of 35-49 year olds have been cutting back, compared to three-in-ten (28 per cent) 50-64 year olds and one-fifth (18 per cent) of those over 65

And much like in August, disabled workers, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers, female workers and those on benefits are all more likely to be cutting back on spending as a result of the pandemic.

Increased debt

Having to cut back isn’t the only consequence of the hit on household finances. Debt levels for some households are rising. Despite the households’ saving ratio being significantly higher than it was before the pandemic[12], one-fifth of workers (21 per cent) told us that they’d seen their levels of debt increase since the pandemic began. This reflects something we mentioned in our previous report, and supported by research by organisations such as the Bank of England[13], IPPR[14] and Resolution Foundation[15]: while higher income households are likely to be saving money due to the pandemic, lower income households are struggling. The pandemic is entrenching existing inequalities.

The rise in debt was particularly noticeable among:

  • Low-paid workers. Three-in-ten (29 per cent) workers earning less than £15,000 per year reported higher levels of debt as a result of the pandemic, compared to one-in-five in other income groups
  • Furloughed workers and those recently made redundant. 35 per cent of furloughed workers and 46 per cent of those recently made redundant have experienced high levels of debt, compared to 19 per cent of those working as normal
  • Those in receipt of benefits. 37 per cent of workers receiving benefits reported increase debt due to the pandemic, compared to 17 per cent of those not in receipt of benefits
  • Disabled workers. Four-in-ten (38 per cent) of workers whose day-to-day activities are limited a lot due to a disability told us they’d seen their levels of debt increase, compared to one-in-five non-disabled workers

BME workers were also slightly more likely than white workers to report higher levels of debt (24 per cent compared to 21 per cent). And women were slightly more likely than men to report the same (23 per cent compared to 20 per cent).

Struggling with bills

Our findings correspond with the findings of other organisations, adding to the evidence of a household debt crisis that was already growing before the pandemic[16], but has been worsened by the crisis.

Citizens Advice have estimated that 6 million adults in the UK have fallen behind on at least one bill, with 1.2 million falling behind on rent[17]. They’ve raised particular concerns about council tax debt, estimating that over 3.5 million people are currently behind on council tax. Council tax debt is a particularly problematic debt due to the regulations around the debt being inflexible, leading to small debts quickly escalating, and unnecessarily harsh collection methods being used[18].

What needs to be done

The government must take urgent action to avoid a worsening household debt crisis that is already hitting people hard and looks set to leave many struggling with debt and repayments for years to come. This is important both in terms of helping those who are struggling and helping the economy to recover. Any recovery will depend on people being able, and feeling confident, to spend. This is unlikely to be the case if people are burdened by debt repayments.

Government must help to prevent the crisis worsening by protecting jobs, increasing the minimum wage, overhauling our benefits system to make it fit for purpose, and increasing statutory sick pay. As well as this, it must provide support for those already in debt through a wider package of support for struggling households.

The TUC’s budget submission sets out our programme to boost workers’ jobs, pay and incomes across the board. Here we set out specific actions that are needed to tackle problem debt.

Protecting jobs

To protect jobs in the immediate future, the government must improve and extend the furlough scheme.

The two largest rises in unemployment in 2020 occurred in months when support was reduced or expected to end[19]. The government must therefore ensure it does not remove the furlough scheme too soon, or allow another situation where the future of the scheme is uncertain. It should create certainty by extending the furlough scheme until the end of 2021.

The government must also urgently act to introduce a requirement that no one’s pay drops below the legal minimum while furloughed. And the minimum wage

We also need to see the government investing now to help create jobs in the coming years. Research carried out for the TUC by Transition Economics reveals that fast tracking spending on projects such as broadband, green technology, transport and housing could deliver a 1.24 million jobs boost by 2022[20], and the TUC has set out plans to fill and create 600,000 jobs in the public sector.[21]

Raising the minimum wage

Over 9 million employees, including 3.7 million key workers, are paid below £10 per hour[22]. A £10 minimum wage would mean a pay increase for millions of low-paid workers who have struggled through the pandemic and would ensure everyone is paid enough to live on.

Increase statutory sick pay

The weekly SSP rate must be permanently raised to at least the equivalent of a week’s real living wage (£330 per week). This would guarantee that everyone who has to take time off work when sick would still at least be paid enough to live on.

Strengthening the safety net

For those who do lose their jobs, the benefits system fails to provide adequate support. It needs an emergency overhaul to make it fit for purpose.

The social security system should support those who do lose their jobs to stay on their feet rather than fall into debt. Government must therefore:

  • Raise the basic level of universal credit and legacy benefits, including jobs seekers allowance and employment and support allowance, to at least 80 per cent of the national living wage (£260 per week).
  • End the five-week wait for first payment of universal credit by converting emergency payment loans to grants.
  • Remove the savings rules in universal credit to allow more people to access it.
  • Significantly increase child benefit payments and remove the two-child limit within universal credit and working tax credit.
  • Ensure no-one loses out on any increases in social security by removing the arbitrary benefit cap. In addition, no one on legacy benefits should lose the protection of the managed transition to universal credit as part of this change.
  • Scrap the no-recourse-to-public-funds rules that deny working families access to social security.

Wider support for struggling households

We reiterate our calls for a more extensive package to support household finances. This should include a fully funded freeze on council tax debt repayment. Council tax debt collection is harsh, ineffective, inefficient and can push people further into debt. It also comes with the underlying threat of imprisonment.

The government should also:

  • Increase the short-term hardship funding provided to councils while also establishing a permanent fund that provides a source of grants to support those facing hardship. This will allow councils to implement properly funded long-term support for struggling households
  • Explore ideas such as writing off council tax debt and providing the outstanding money to councils. The latest available data shows that, as of the end of March 2020, the total amount of council tax outstanding was £3.6 billion[23]. Writing this off and paying the outstanding amount to councils would have two benefits: providing both debt relief for struggling households and a significant cash injection to local councils
  • Increase the support it provides to renters, including an extension of the eviction ban that is set to end in February 2021

A Workers’ Budget: TUC Submission for HM Treasury March 2021 Budget

The devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is an immense challenge to society. We know that without protecting public health, the economy will be unable to recover. We urge the Chancellor to remain resolute in his pledge to do ‘whatever it takes’. The measures taken to date have supported the economy and slowed a catastrophic breakdown in household incomes. But there is more to do to protect jobs, and livelihoods, and to support people who want to do the right thing to protect public health.

In the Budget the Treasury should pledge to support workers, families and businesses for as long as the pandemic continues and economic activity is disrupted.

  • The Job Retention Scheme should be extended until the end of 2021, mirroring the support in place in other leading economies. It should be  accompanied by a ‘furlough commitment’ to keep in place or renew support for as long as health measures affect economic activity, with the Chancellor providing a quarterly update on the state of the labour market and the support available.
     
  • The need to fix sick pay has never been more urgent. Sick pay should be raised to £320 a week, and eligibility extended to the 2 million people who do not qualify because they earn too little.
     
  • Universal Credit could provide a vital lifeline for many families during this time. It should be increased to a level people can live off – £260 a week – and there must be no rowing back on the £20 uplift introduced last year. The five-week wait to access the benefit must be ended. 
     
  • Key workers should be properly rewarded: public sector pay should be increased not frozen; and zero hours contracts should be banned.
     
  • Beyond immediate measures to protect workers, the government needs to get serious about creating jobs. The TUC has set out proposals for a public sector jobs drive, green infrastructure spending and a family stimulus. And there should be an immediate £10bn aid package to help industry cope with new trade barriers and make manufacturing the best in Europe. 
     
  • The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the depth of inequalities in Britain today, with structural racism, sexism and discrimination against disabled people resulting in sharply different experiences of the pandemic. Government must show how the measures it takes in this Budget and more broadly will promote equality and overcome the structural barriers faced by too many working people across the UK.

We must take the opportunity to reflect on the lessons of the pandemic. Serious flaws in how the UK and world economy work have been put into sharp relief, not least the poor pay and severe inequalities faced by those who keep the country going.  After the Second World War, the Attlee government built back better to a welfare state, the NHS, education and housing for all. In doing so they created a better economy and brought the public finances back under control. We can do so again.

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