“The Government is levelling down, not levelling up.”John McDonnell MP.
‘It is very clear they are levelling down, not levelling up’, said former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on the Conservatives agenda at a Labour activists event on the day of the Spending Review and in support of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s #PeoplesPlan.
The meeting, chaired by new left MP Apsana Begum, saw hundreds attend to hear a left response to Rishi Sunak’s latest financial statement.
McDonnell particularly condemned the public sector pay freeze, and attack on the incomes of key workers such as teachers, police and firefighters and said that the government was ‘levelling down, not levelling up’, by justifying the freeze on trends in private sector pay impacted by the pandemic furlough payments.
McDonnell said the Spending Review showed austerity was continuing ten years into a Conservative government, with no money for social care, or for other local government services, insufficient investment in tackling climate change, jobs hit by increasing use of fire and rehire, and incomes affected by the public sector pay freeze, an expected reduction to universal credit, the continued inadequacy of statutory sick pay, with dependence on personal credit increasing.
He said the cut in foreign aid spending was also taking money away from the poorest across the planet, replicating the attack on those on lowest incomes in the UK, and described the government as ‘brutes’.
Pascale Robinson, from pro-public ownership campaigning organisation We Own It, said forty years of privatisation had ripped off the public and condemned the gradual sell-off of parts of the public NHS in recent years which had left it under-invested in and ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic.
From the sell-off of buildings and reduction in beds that had left the NHS forced to pay private hospitals to increase capacity, to the privatised PPE supply chain which had left stockpiles low and forced the Department of Health to pay over the odds to private suppliers.
Robinson said the period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership had brought public ownership into the mainstream and seen support grow, and that it was still the responsibility of progressive campaigners to campaign for public ownership and regulation in utilities, in transport and in private media.
Sarah Woolley, the General Secretary of the Bakers Union, reflected on the experience of members who had been forced to choose between health and wealth, and continue working whilst suffering from the virus because of their inability to survive on sick pay. She set out how poor the UK’s statutory sick payment was compared to European counterparts and urged activists to support the unions campaign for Sick Pay for All.
And Richard Burgon, Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, said the Spending Review left no-one in any doubt who would be required to pay for the crisis. He said the Labour Party and wider movement should make it a priority to defend the working class, who had lost out over the past decade, and instead make the case for the billionaires and corporate elite who had benefited during austerity to pay for the crisis.
Burgon condemned the attack on incomes through the pay freeze, universal credit, sick pay and said it was unacceptable that furlough pay could fall below the national minimum wage.
He said that profit making agenda needed to be removed from the covid pandemic response, and that the role of companies like Serco’s involvement in test and trace, and the contracts given to close friends and associates of Conservative politicians should be subject to a public inquiry.
The Conservatives attempt to put public sector against private reflected a divide and rule approach that would also see a return to scapegoating of migrants and benefit recipients and needed to be combatted with an alternative vision of society.
That vision must reverse decades if de-industrialisation and impoverishment, including state-led investment in a huge programme of public works, and addressing climate change through a green new deal and green jobs agenda.
Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s Matt Willgress, thanked the Chair Apsana Begum MP and welcomed a new generation of socialist MPs elected under the party’s previous left leadership and urged comrades to support the organisations petitions against a cut to universal credit, the trade union petition against the public sector pay freeze Richard Burgon’s demand for the minimum wage to apply to furlough.
Concluding, Richard Burgon backed the same calls and urged comrades to reorient their activity and reorganise around concrete demands, and demonstrate a propositionalist practical left movement would continue the work of rebuilding the left and winning socialist change.
- Join over 17,000 Labour members in backing the #PeoplesPlan at http://bit.ly/planforthepeople