Alternatives to austerity

Back to all Motions

2013 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2013

Conference finds no joy in being proved right that the Coalitions austerity programme continues to cause a slump. Final UK growth is forecast by the Chancellor for minus 0.1 percent in 2012 and optimistically for 1.2% in 2013. The Quantitative Easing scheme run by Bank of England has propped up the financial firms with cheap money but little has reached the real economy and pay packets. The self defeating programme means the Chancellor and the Office for Budget Responsibility keep lowering forecast after forecast and keeps putting back the deadline for eliminating the budget deficit.

Whilst employment has been increasing very slightly there is is still wide spread unemployment and under employment with large numbers of workers working part time but seeking full time hours. Furthermore, much of the increase can be accounted for by quarter of a million unemployed workers taking part in unpaid government work experience schemes and much of the supposed growth in private sector jobs is accounted for by the re-classification of the further education sector and the privatisation of public services. The rise in zero hours contracts, particularly in health and social care, is typical of the continued squeeze on job security.

Conference expresses its concerns about the increased use of volunteer projects to deliver services which used to be seen as the core business of both health and local government. We believe that this provides a risk to services continuing as volunteers, quite rightly, can’t be obliged to provide a service as a member of staff can.

Working people and vulnerable groups should not be paying the cost of a crisis they did not create. We need to start building a fairer economy that works for everyone. There is an alternative to the austerity measures being pursued by a Government that is out of touch with the realities of ordinary people’s lives and which stands in sharp contrast to the vitriolic campaigns of UKIP and the right wing media, who seek to lay the blame for the current economic crisis on immigration and the most vulnerable.

Conference is angry that the squeeze on living standards is continuing with earnings lagging behind inflation driven by rising food, energy and fuel prices. The contrast with the millionaires tax cut in the higher rate of income tax and the non-stop rise in directors pays is obscene. To continue the pain to families and the economy the Coalition plan to cap tax credits and benefits at 1% for three years from April 2013, meaning an extra 200,000 children will move in to poverty, in addition to the 800,000 already estimated by the Institute of Fiscal Policy to do so by the end of the Parliament.

Conference also notes that at the same time the government has pledged around £1,350 billion in financial support to rescue the banks and the financial system from collapse since 2008. This is equivalent to Britain’s annual gross domestic product, twice the annual total of public expenditure and six times the disastrous cuts in public spending announced for the next four years. However this vast injection of monies into the banks has not been used to stimulate industrial investment or house building to boost the economy, it has merely been used to help repair the banks’ balance sheets and maintain the perverse banking bonus culture.

These policies are having a devastating impact on some of the most deprived areas that have the greatest need for regeneration, jobs, social provision and growth, especially in the North East. The government has pledged to cut 730,000 public sector jobs by 2017 and to cut spending by £80bn. For millions, their jobs pay and pensions are under threat, as are the local services they provide and use. In the North East the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) warned of a further £100m of “stealth cuts”, and an extra 1,000 job losses across the region’s local authorities. Urban areas are being hit by steeper cuts than wealthier parts of England. The government announced in December that the overall spending power of North East town halls will be slashed by up to 2.2 per cent next year and by a crushing five per cent-plus in most areas in 2014-15. Compare this to Tory-run West Oxfordshire, David Cameron’s local council, which is among many in the South that will enjoy a spending rise in 2013-14 and escape with just a small cut the following year.

Conference recognises that devolution in Wales has allowed a Labour government to mitigate against some of the worst affects of the ConDem policies by limiting the cuts in health and local government expenditure and introducing positive initiatives such as: the Jobs Growth Wales and the expansion of apprenticeships which have particularly assisted young people.

All of these disastrous policies are devastating our communities and in particular having a disproportionate affect on women and young people; three-quarters of the adverse changes to tax and benefits affect women, with over one million women unemployed and 40% of the unemployed in this recession will be young people.

Conference, for the last five years, has borne testament to the pain and anger of public service workers who have lost jobs, had services cut, suffered pay freezes and had conditions attacked. Our members have been the backbone of the resistance to austerity in every town and city across the UK and their struggles must continue to inspire us all and be the basis of our Million Voices campaign to rebuild living standards and the economy.

The voice of opposition to the Coalition government is being led by UNISON. We are promoting the need for an alternative economic strategy. One that invests in the public sector, creates a climate for economic growth, reduces unemployment levels especially targeting youth unemployment, ensure a tax system that is fair for all and closes loopholes that allow tax avoidance by multinational organisations, and addresses the excesses of the banking sector including the introduction of a financial transaction tax.

Conference, therefore, salutes the many UNISON branches campaigning and achieving living wages and notes that raising the National Minimum Wage to the Living Wage would raise £2billion in extra taxation, result in less paid out in means tested benefits and boost local economies throughout the UK.

The changes to housing benefit are having a devastating impact on the lives of so many. In addition the crisis in social housing is exacerbating the situation. Only 10% of housing benefit recipients are unemployed. These changes will harm a significant number of working households and pensioners.

Conference notes with concern attempts by the Tories to divert anger created by their austerity programme and to create division by attacking benefit claimants and, especially after recent UKIP successes, immigration. In Greece and elsewhere we have seen the danger that bitterness about austerity can be channelled by even more dangerous forces such as Golden Dawn.

Conference believes the country is crying out for an investment programme in public services and infrastructure to tackle social need, inspire confidence and reflate the economy. The Coalition programme is small, inadequate and slow, and despite earlier statements to the contrary will revive the notorious Private Finance Initiative in a slightly different form.

Our priorities and alternative economic strategy is not just a message for the Coalition government it is a message for all politicians at local, regional, national and European level. A strategy that will build on the TUC’s work on an Alternative Economic Strategy and support for the People’s Charter for Change which advocate boosting the productive economy, creating jobs, enhancing public services and, as a result, improving the lives of millions of workers and their families.

In addition a more innovative use of the Bank of England’s Quantative Easing powers could be utilised to boost the real economy by developing a Funding for Building Scheme, a public sector equivalent of Funding for Lending scheme, available to public authorities to support infrastructure expenditure and to private businesses to support green manufacturing.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to set the following plans in 2013 and 2014 for economic and public service revival.

To promote an alternative economic strategy to boost local economies and confidence through:

1) an expansion of affordable housing;

2) creation of a state investment bank to back long term strategic projects ignored by our banks;

3) investment in green, affordable and sustainable energy;

4) development of a regional economies plan;

5) a more progressive taxation system in Britain, including taxes on financial transactions, bankers’ bonuses and empty properties; higher corporation tax; action on tax avoidance and evasion; reform of tax haven and residency rules;

6) ending the public service pay cap, cuts to services and redundancies;

7) introduction of a jobs guarantee for the long term unemployed;

8) legislating against zero hours contracts;

9) introduction of a living wage that would end the dependency on tax credits and social benefits, while increasing tax revenue to the Exchequer and end low pay by raising average earnings;

10) minimum staffing and appropriate skill mix for all areas of the public services;

11) a reduction in unnecessary public spending on private sector with no further outsourcing and PFI schemes restructured and phased out to halt profiteering and increase accountability;

12) new investment in NHS in-house cleaning services to eradicate infections acquired during healthcare treatment.

To do this by:

a) reinvigorating our campaigning based on boosting members job security and living standards;

b) working with TUC, STUC, WTUC and ICTU on building the national alternative economic strategies;

c) working with the ETUC to campaign against European austerity;

d) a renewed focus on organising and recruiting members to build our collective bargaining strength and coverage, and strengthen the union wide campaign for an alternative to austerity;

e) building living wage campaigns through organising in the workplace and community coalitions;

f) working with service groups to support and co-ordinate their pay campaigns, including through lawful industrial action;

g) helping regions and service groups get maximum resources to Branches in dispute with their employers over changes to pay and conditions, job cuts and outsourcing;

h) working with the political funds to influence all political parties contesting the next general election that fairly funded public services, investment, job security and raising living standards will restore our economic health and work with Labour Link with the aim of getting UNISON’s alternative economic strategy adopted by the Labour party in time for the next general election;

i) making the case that an economic stimulus is not only necessary but affordable, through clamping down on tax dodgers both individual and corporate, fair taxation, increased economic activity resulting in increased tax revenue, and reductions in military spending to the European Union average together with cancellation of a new post-Trident nuclear weapons system;

j) to ensure that as an integral part of our campaigning we resist all attempts to divert anger at austerity and create division in our ranks for example by the scapegoating of benefit claimants or migrant workers.

To continue to campaign at local, regional and national level with elected representatives and other relevant organisations to promote an agenda that:

i) tackles youth unemployment which is at record levels;

ii) strengthens regulation to prohibit speculative financial activity and channel investment into socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable job creation;

iii) promotes accountable public provision of healthcare, education, housing and social services that are protected and expanded to meet social and economic needs;

iv) fights privatisation of public services;

v) Conference calls on UNISON Labour Link to campaign vigorously within the Labour Party for support for the policies contained in this motion.