Blog: Which version of the UK will Jeremy Hunt choose to back?

We’ll be watching closely, and we’ll be ready to take action if the chancellor fails to fix the crisis in pay packets and public services

Unison General Secretary, Christina McAnea, visits picket lines at Ambulance stations across Yorkshire, in support of striking Ambulance and support crews. Photo shows the Longley Ambulance Station, Sheffield.

Last week, the news showed two versions of the UK. In one, school buildings are crumbling and ambulances have to queue outside overstretched A&E departments. Public service workers who we clapped through the pandemic are relying on food banks, and credit cards to afford their energy bills and childcare costs. Workers across the country are making the difficult choice to take industrial action for a decent wage.

In the other UK, though, profits are booming. The oil and gas giants made record returns, while our energy bills hit record highs. And as public service workers are told to accept pay restraint, Shell’s outgoing CEO was given a 53% pay rise and a payout in the millions. Bankers bonuses have doubled since the 2008 crash.

Wednesday’s budget is about choices. The chancellor has to choose which of the two versions of the UK is his priority. Will he choose to let oil and gas giants continue to make massive profits at the expense of ordinary households struggling to pay their bills? Will he choose to allow obscene payouts at the top, while telling public service workers to accept yet another pay cut?

Or will he choose to fix the crisis in public services and the crisis that each of us faces as we grapple with the rising cost of living?

When working people get a pay rise, they don’t gamble it in stocks and shares, or buy second homes. Instead, they spend it locally, buying food in local shops, taking their family to the cafe, paying their nursery bills or getting a haircut, thereby helping businesses locally and the economy as a whole.

Giving a pay rise also helps essential public services at a time when they are haemorrhaging staff.

UNISON’s recent NHS staff survey shows that 1 in 9 nurses left active service in 2021-2022 while a quarter of paramedics say they would leave their job as soon as they could find another one. The outlook is bleak unless the chancellor chooses a drastically different direction.

All the reports say that there is some financial wriggle room in this budget. Borrowing was lower than forecast, and the government has an unexpected surplus.

On Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt can afford to invest in working people and public services, and he has the money to be able to keep energy bills down and ensure people can afford the basics. The question is, will he choose to?

We’ll be watching closely, and we’ll be ready to take action if the chancellor fails to fix the crisis in pay packets and public services.