by Amanda Ramsay
When it comes to the economy, George Osborne has failed this country on all levels. He’s failed on debt reduction, on deficit reduction and failed to bring growth or jobs. The price we pay is cuts to our services, employment rights and employment prospects.
The Autumn financial statement poured more cold water on Keynesian hopes, eager for a “do something government,” not a laissez-faire-do-nothing-but-cut-government. Yet in the morass of commentary and analysis since the chancellor sat down last Wednesday, I am still asking myself: why is it acceptable that tax payers end-up subsidising low wages by means of tax credits, housing benefit and all manner of other fiscal instruments to supplement people on poverty pay?
I ask this not because the recipients don’t deserve the help they need to make ends meet, of course they do, but they are only necessary because employers and companies are not paying adequate salaries and wages in the first place.
Someone who has the gumption to start a company and create jobs should be congratulated and supported but without a mandatory living wage, companies are allowed to let profit win over decency in how they pay their staff.
Low pay is forcing people into the arms of the nanny state; to house, feed, clothe and pay for transport to get themselves to work, let alone heat their homes.
Where’s the fairness in that?
With cuts to benefits (a 1% rise is a cut in real terms with inflation at 2.6%), painful and dreary austerity for years to come and a shrinking economy, with no growth in sight, when is tax and pay justice going to be a real public expectation and demand from the government?
Fair and decent wages should come out of profits rather than tax payers coughing-up via the treasury, through income tax and council tax revenue. 40% of those in receipt of housing benefit in Bristol alone are working. Many people resorting to food banks are also in work.
While the right-wing bemoan benefit scroungers and rightly so for the downright workshy, evidence suggests such people are a tiny minority. I want our government to focus on the biggest swindlers, however legal the practices, the likes of Starbucks, Amazon, Vodafone and ebay.
These firms are so besotted with profit over all else they deliberately avoid paying corporation tax, on such a huge scale that UK Uncut says the exchequer is missing an eye-watering £95billion in lost revenue.
Employing more staff at HMRC would be a step in the right direction, more tax could be collected, more investigations take place and evasion reduced. Compliance officers in HMRC bring in over £658,000 in revenue per employee, yet 15,000 HRMC tax inspectors are losing their jobs.
It’s galling that the cruel and brutal cuts which are hurting people and lacerating the very fabric of our society could be avoided if these tax justice issues were dealt with internationally; meanwhile campaigners like myself struggle to secure a living wage for the hardworking public, which should guarantee workers earning at least £7.45 per hour outside of London, £8.55 in the capital.
Getting out of the downturn we find ourselves will be achieved by stimulating the economic heartbeat of the nation, not depriving it of the very fuel needed for the engine to work, that of more disposable income and tax receipts from happy earning and spending consumers.
The public need hope and reassurance. There must be the political will to deliver a realistic alternative to the savage cuts and a shrinking economy.
Any credible plan for a real recovery must include investment in social infrastructure, housing, social care and childcare. Banks must start lending again and government schemes to help create proper, paid jobs in areas of long-term unemployment are needed.
Britain must strive to be fair to consumers and employees alike, whilst remaining clearly open for business, not an overly punitive place to trade, these things are not mutually exclusive. Being pro-business does not have to mean letting corporations run wild, exploiting our workforce, society and taxation system.
UK Uncut may not be everyone’s cup of tea but their campaigning vigour and direct action over this week alone has prompted Starbucks to announce it was volunteering a £20million deposit to HM Treasury, as a financial mea culpa. It’s not everything, but it is a start, and that this is even on the corporate agenda in companies across the FTSE is testament, in part, to the power of UK Uncut’s efforts.
Amanda Ramsay is an executive officer of Bristol South Labour party and community campaigner