Vexing the government over tax credits

Victory in the Lords is only the beginning of UNISON’s hard-fought campaign to protect tax credits for working people

The House of Lords vote at the end of October to delay Chancellor George Osborne’s tax credits was a tremendous win for ordinary people struggling to get by on low pay – but it’s only a beginning.

The vote gives the government a chance to think again on its plans to cut the budgets of nearly three million low and middle income working families, including all too many UNISON members.

We believe that people should be paid a wage they can live on. But until that happens, tax credits need to be kept.

Cutting them would impose a penalty on work – were it not for the Lords intervention, an average household receiving tax credits would have lost a whopping £1,350 a year from next April.

That’s why UNISON launched a campaign against the plans and will continue the campaign until it wins a full victory.

“The vote on tax credits is a tremendous win for ordinary people struggling to get by on low pay,” commented general secretary Dave Prentis after the Lords made their decision. “But it’s only a beginning.

“UNISON will continue the campaign for working people, our people, to get a fair reward for their work, so that families don’t have to choose between heating and eating this winter – or at any other time.”

The issue was brought home to UNISON when the union crunched the numbers and looked at how many members would be hit by the cuts, and how much they stood to lose.

An online calculator allowed UNISON members and anyone else to quickly find out what the tax credit plans would actually mean to them and their income from next year.

By the time the Lords voted, the calculator had been used more than 75,000 times – and had attracted media attention, with positive mentions in The Guardian and Metro newspapers, and elsewhere.

The campaign pages of the union website also featured an interactive map, allowing users to click on any parliamentary constituency in England, Scotland or Wales and see how many families – and how many children – would be affected, who the MP was and how they voted.

There were also media briefings that set out exactly what was at stake.

And on top of that, a number of UNISON members and family members volunteered to be case studies for the media, putting a human face on the government’s plans by agreeing to talk about what the cuts would mean for them and their families.

One of those, Katie Noble from Eastbourne, featured on the BBC News evening bulletins ( She told the union: “Thanks for raising such awareness around the tax credit cuts. It’s reassuring to know there are people sticking up for what is right.”

And Stacey Tutty, a teaching assistant from Lincolnshire, whose story features on Channel 4, the BBC, The Guardian and even a French newspaper, emailed us to say “a huge thank you for everything you have done. It’s certainly been an interesting half term.”

And she added: “A great vote in the Lord’s last night. Let’s hope this is a change for the better.”

Says Dave Prentis: “It’s nice to receive such warm words. I’m proud of the part our union and our members played in campaigning on this issue.

“Our members answered the call to speak out in public and put a human face on this.”

The tax credits campaign has seen good news with the Lords voting against the cuts, but we’ve still got a long way to go. It’s a classic example of the good campaigning that UNISON can do, using the resources of the union and the voices of our members.