Hunt and Sunak’s ‘austerity autumn statement’ – how does the left respond?


“While many right-wing commentators and Tory MPs continue to repeat the narrative of a ‘wage-price spiral’, in reality it is aggressive profiteering driving prices up and contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.”

John McDonnell MP

By Fraser McGuire

On Thursday, 17th November, hundreds tuned in to the Arise Festival online briefing in response to the Autumn statement delivered by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt that morning in the House of Commons. You can read the report back or watch the meeting in full below:

WATCH: Hunt & Sunak’s ‘austerity autumn statement’ – how do we respond?

The briefing was chaired by Arise volunteer Sam Browse, who began by welcoming the speakers and remarking on the importance of being able to host discussions on the budget at a time of “deepening cost of living crisis and deepening resistance to the tory offensive”.

John McDonnell MP, former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, opened by explaining that the current inflationary cycle that the UK is experiencing isn’t caused by wages increasing, rather it is due to excess profits within the private sector. While many right-wing commentators and Tory MPs continue to repeat the narrative of a ‘wage-price spiral’, in reality it is aggressive profiteering driving prices up and contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.

LISTEN: Hunt & Sunak’s ‘austerity autumn statement’ – how do we respond?

Referencing the fact that housing and mortgage repossessions have increased by over 500 percent in the past 12 months, McDonnell explained that the housing sector has always been “the canary in the mine when you’re trying to assess how people are coping,” and the extreme issues currently plaguing the housing market are likely just a taste of things to come. Looking ahead to the coming recession, he noted that “because of 12 years of austerity, people haven’t got the financial resilience to respond” to a future economic crisis.

Holly Turner from NHS Workers say No began by highlighting that over 300,000 NHS workers in the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have recently been successfully balloted for industrial action, achieving a mandate to strike for the first time in the organisation’s history. She continued by describing how Sunak’s government is unleashing a new wave of austerity on people in Britain and on our public services, stating that “this is a government who have crushed our economy and now they’re leaving the working people to pay the bill”.

Turner then tore into Jeremy Hunt’s argument that increased demand in the NHS is down to an aging population, referencing the fact that in many areas, life expectancy has slowed and actually reversed, especially in places with high levels of deprivation. Explaining that the NHS is currently facing “record demand, waiting times, and a growing backlog,” Turner created a worrying picture of the state of the NHS going into the winter period, with the normal additional pressures bound to be “exacerbated by the rising in living costs”, as the impacts on mental and physical health put more pressure on the NHS at a time when “health inequality is at its worst.”

Andrew Fisher, political activist, journalist, and author came into the discussion by outlining the importance of fighting for wage increases, both to protect individual workers from the cost-of-living crisis, and to ensure that ordinary people still have disposable income – a necessity to have a sustainable economy. Less spending is inevitably leading to falling retails sales, which in turn has a knock-on effect on jobs, which Fisher then points out as unemployment has recently been on the rise, up over 100,000 in September, as more people lose disposable income in the face of 11.1 percent inflation rates. The solution to this issue, Fisher argues, can be found by “fighting for protected strong wages,” which Fisher points out is “exactly what unions are doing.”

Özlem Onaran, Professor of Economics at the University of Greenwich opened by mentioning the UCU strikes towards the end of November, which will see more than 70,000 university staff across the country take industrial action, coordinating with workers from the CWU. Professor Onaran went on to expose Sunak and Hunt’s “symbolic” Autumn budget as a “budget of real cuts to public investment and services” and one which is “shy on taxing the rich.” Continuing to point out the flaws in the Tories economic plans, she explained the need for a mass mobilisation of public spending in investment, especially in the green economy and care economy.

Stressing the importance of key workers during the pandemic, Ozlem focused on the lack of mention of public sector pay within the budget, as well as Hunt’s intentional avoidance of discussing even hypothetical rent and energy price controls, which are policies crucial to tackling the ever-growing cost of living crisis and housing crisis.

John Trickett MP joined the meeting, thanking the Arise volunteers and other speakers. For his opening remarks he made the point that one major difficulty for the left is being able to “talk the language of ordinary people” regarding the disastrous austerity policies being embarked upon by Sunak and Hunt, rather than relying too much on academic economic discourse and statistics.

Recalling when he was stuck on a broken-down train earlier that day, Trickett explained how the train driver had climbed out onto the track in pouring rain to fix the issue, demonstrating how the actions of ordinary working people can make a major difference to people’s lives and how valuable every worker in society is. He then continued to reflect on the significant number of people in his constituency that are being impacted by food and energy price rises, and demonstrated the flaws in the tory narrative that the increases are solely due to the conflict in Ukraine, by making the point that even before the issues with the global supply chain, nearly one in nine people in Britain had used a food bank during their life.

The discussion wrapped up after the speakers took several questions on a broad range of issues relating to the Autumn budget including campaigns to tackle profiteering by private energy firms, taxation, and reform of land ownership, and whether borrowing was necessary to rebuild the public sector. Sam Browse finished the event by thanking the volunteer team and speakers, and encouraging the audience to help support Arise festival, so that they can continue hosting critically important, narrative shaping events and briefings.

Featured image Rishi Sunak holds his first Cabinet Meeting. Photo by Number 10 Downing Street under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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