Today the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the Budget, setting out government spending and support for the coming year.
After such a difficult economic period, millions across the country will be looking to the government to safeguard their future and protect their finances.
The support announced today was simply not enough to meet the needs of the British people.
Furlough Scheme extension
We are happy to see furlough payments extended until September. The furlough scheme has been essential in safeguarding livelihoods during the economic turmoil that has accompanied the pandemic. This extension will provide job security to many for the coming months.
Self employment support
Many self-employed people have been unable to access financial support, or with minimal support, during this pandemic. This has left them struggling for nearly a year.
We are therefore encouraged to see that the number of self-employed people able to access the SEISS will be increased, now including the newly self-employed and closing a major gap in Coronavirus support schemes.
This is a significant move, one that we have been calling for throughout the pandemic and we know will mean a huge sigh of relief for so many. However, this is only a first step towards achieving parity for self-employed workers.
The Chancellor failed to plug the gaps for thousands of other self-employed workers such as self-employed women who are being discriminated against in the SEISS. Whilst more workers are now included, many millions remain excluded.
Statutory sick pay
We must also not forget that whilst the end of the pandemic is in sight, we are not there yet. There are still thousands of new cases of Coronavirus every day. We were therefore disappointed to see the changes to Sick Pay today.
No one should have to choose between obeying the law to self-isolate and financial devastation. This is bad for workers, and bad for public health. The government should increase Sick Pay and make sure it is accessible to all, including the self-employed.
The increase of Statutory Sick Pay by 0.5% is still lower than projected inflation, meaning that in real-terms this would be a cut to Sick Pay. A truly baffling proposition to announce a year into a global pandemic.
Mr Sunak has today increased the limit for contactless payments to £100 – an amount currently higher than SSP for a single week. How can £100 be an amount so small that it can be a single contactless payment, but also be expected to be more than enough for somebody unwell with Coronavirus to live off for a week?
We welcome the extension of the increase of Universal Credit, but feel that six months is again not enough. Money should not be taken away from our poorest families, and this increase should be made permanent.
What we need now, and was truly missing from today’s budget, is a vision for recovery for all of the country. As a time when life returns to some form of normality, the government now have to show what our economic future is and deliver investment in key industries.
The “levelling up” agenda is vitally important. For too long, towns and cities across the country have been neglected. When Mr Sunak says “we need a real commitment to create jobs where people are”, we couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, some new freeports and a new outpost for the Treasury does not make for a comprehensive levelling up agenda. There was so much more that could have been in this budget today that would have served millions of people across the country a lot better than what was.
Perhaps indicative of a blasé attitude towards British industry across the country is a dismissive approach to the steel industry, treating it as an industry of the past. We couldn’t disagree more.
There can be no post-pandemic economic recovery without a strong steel industry, and there can also be no green future without an investment in Britain’s steel.
There were too many shortfalls in today’s budget, and many important issues that the government are not addressing. We must not forget those who risked their lives to keep us going. Our key workers are the ones getting us through this crisis – working on the frontline to save lives and kept the country running often at great personal risk to themselves.
Yet they get paid 8% less than the average. That’s unacceptable. Gestures are not enough, and real meaningful change is needed.
We were deeply disappointed to see no pay rise for essential workers and believe that should be given priority in the next budget to thank those who have given so much to so many of us.
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For more on our response to the budget from an education and early years perspective, please see Voice Community’s response here.