Boris Johnson was urged today (Friday 26 June) not to abdicate the government’s responsibilities to London and provide a cash injection to help the capital’s economy recover post-Covid-19.
The call came from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, as London’s mayor Sadiq Khan issued his budget guidance as to how the Greater London Authority Group (GLA) would look to make savings of up to £500m over the next two years, unless ministers step in.
Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said: “The economy and the lives of Londoners have been battered and thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus emergency.
“Because of the unprecedented nature of Covid-19, the government needs to step in with a generous financial settlement to get one of the world’s great cities back to a semblance of normality.
“There are so many reasons why the chancellor Rishi Sunak needs to get his cheque book out to assist London’s post-pandemic recovery.
“Such a recovery will require a joined-up and properly resourced transport network, which before the lockdown saw London buses alone carrying six million passengers a day.
“The £1.6bn government bailout in May – a combination of grant and loans – for Transport for London (TfL) was only for four months, and carried with it a number of stringent conditions, following the dramatic slump in passenger numbers.
“There now needs to be a serious look at what is needed financially for the short and long-term to keep Londoners on the move.
“Unite members have been on the frontline in London during the crisis, with more than 30 deaths amongst London bus workers.
“They must not now be expected to pay for the government’s apparent reluctance to give the necessary support for the wide range of services that London needs to function as a good place to live and work, and where businesses and the service economy can thrive.
“Unite will fight every step of the way to resist job losses or any erosion of terms and conditions. There is already much to do in terms of addressing driver fatigue, long hours and low pay – without any further pressures in the working lives of our members.
“The prime minister has repeatedly pledged that there will be no return to the austerity regime of previous Tory governments and Unite intends to see that this is one promise that Boris Johnson keeps.
“Now is not the time for the prime minister to abdicate his responsibilities to the people of London.”
Unite is the union for bus workers, TfL and front line workers in revenue protection, bus operations and Dial a Ride, as well as having key groups of membership in London Underground, Croydon Trams and Victoria coach station – all of which could be affected by any future cuts.
Unite, which represents workers throughout the aerospace and aviation sector, is calling on the UK government to follow the lead of France and provide specific support to these sectors, both of which have been dramatically hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The direct intervention and support for both sectors by the French government is in direct contrast to the action by the UK government, which to date has only been prepared to offer minimal or piecemeal support, heightening fears that there will be huge job losses and that businesses presently based in the UK will move overseas to countries where government support is on offer.
Urgent action needed
Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said: “The French government is absolutely right to act to protect French aerospace and aviation skills and jobs while also delivering on climate change commitments.
“This is precisely the sort of intervention we quickly need to see from the UK government to preserve jobs.
“There are 1.2 million UK workers depending on the aerospace and aviation sectors for their jobs, from engineers to airline and airport staff.
“Unless a specific support package is brought forward soon, including measures such as an aircraft scrappage scheme, then thousands of jobs will be lost and the UK will lose its standing as a world leader in aerospace.
“This initiative by the French government means it is even more vital that the UK government brings forward its own support package or an even greater number of jobs will be lost in this country. Major companies will simply avail themselves of support overseas with an inevitable grim knock on effect at home.”
UK wake-up call
Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland said: “The French government’s support for its aviation sector must serve as a wake up call to our own government. It is nearly three months since the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, promised specific support for aviation as a result of the pandemic and we are still waiting.
“The initiative from the French government must also prompt MPs and businesses alike because they need to be applying far greater pressure on our government to act decisively and bring forward support without further delay.
Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, has written to the government over plans to return to normal levels of economic activity.
In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Ms Dodds says she is “deeply concerned that the last 48 hours have presented a confused picture” in relation to whether those with suspected Covid-19 should self-isolate. The shadow chancellor has asked the government to state “unequivocally that those with Covid-19 must self-isolate at home, with the rest of their household.”
The Shadow Chancellor has requested that the government share details of their modelling on the impact to population incomes, business solvency, and levels of UK economic activity if there are delays in the reopening of sectors due to any potential increase in the ‘R’ statistic or ineffective introduction of ‘test, track and protect’.
Noting that the country is facing the deepest recession in 300 years, Ms Dodds emphasises the “additional economic impact of [public health] measures being undermined and the contraction being unnecessarily prolonged.”
The decision by digger manufacturer JCB, a major Tory party donor, to axe up to 950 direct jobs and another 500 agency workers, is ‘a slap in the face’ for the hard working people who have made JCB the iconic name it is and the government’s job retention scheme (JRS), Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Friday 15 May).
Unite said that the company’s statement appeared to indicate that it was walking away from the government’s JRS, which is now running to the end of October, just as the time comes to put its own hand in its pocket and paying its fair share towards supporting its workforce.
It was only in December that the prime minister used a JCB site in Staffordshire for a bizarre Brexit election stunt when he used a company digger to smash through a polystyrene ‘wall’.
In announcing the job losses as well as sacking an additional 500 agency workers, JCB CEO Graeme Macdonald said: “The Government’s taxpayer-funded Job Retention Scheme, which was a temporary measure that has seen most UK employees furloughed since the beginning of April, was never going to be capable of sustaining employment at companies having to face such reduced levels of demand.”
Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said: “JCB is preparing to throw 1,500 workers under the bus just as the government asks employers to pay their fair share towards protecting jobs and keeping the heads of loyal workers above water.
“A major Tory party donor and big supporter of the prime minister – the company seems to be turning its back on measures personally tailored by Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak to help the very people that have made JCB a household name here and overseas.
“If this is the case, this a personal slap in the face for the prime minister by a company that has lavished large sums on the Tory party and provided the forum for his bizarre election stunt when he smashed through a polystyrene ‘wall’.
“Boris Johnson should be on the phone this afternoon seeking guarantees that JCB will save those jobs and use the JRS in the way it was designed to protect workers, their families and communities.
“JCB’s announcement is an indication of a much deeper problem however. As the prime minister prepares to make that call, he should line up others to follow as part of the broader national drive to support UK manufacturing.
“We are in desperate need of a clear plan and post-Covid-19 strategy from government to support UK Plc. Building resilience in our lost supply chains, re-shoring jobs and protecting skills alongside regional economies.
“This is exactly what JCB should be doing to save these jobs. It’s a major exporter as well as domestic supplier and needs to play its part during this national emergency to safeguard manufacturing jobs, bring home its supply chains and spearhead a post-pandemic recovery.”
Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP Chancellor of the Exchequer HM Treasury 1 Horse Guards Road London SW1A 2HQ
Wednesday 1 April 2020
We, the undersigned leaders of civil society organisations, trade unions and community groups, academics, and policy experts call on you to take urgent and immediate action to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic deepening the debt trap faced by millions of low income households, and pushing millions more into problem debt.
The UK already faced a profound and growing crisis of poverty, destitution and problem indebtedness prior to Covid-19. Over 14 million British citizens, nearly 20% of our entire population, were already in poverty: struggling to afford even basic living essentials like food, water, electricity and rent. Growing numbers have been forced to borrow from high-cost lenders just to put food on the table, and faced spiralling indebtedness as a result. Personal debt was at its highest ever level just prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, with over 9 million people in problem debt.
We strongly commend the action you have taken within the last week to protect incomes and prevent the pandemic leading to employers laying off workers. We particularly applaud the moves to guarantee wages through the job retention scheme and to uplift Universal Credit and Local Housing Allowance.
However, many thousands of layoffs have already happened despite the measures announced, with many more expected in the coming weeks. Even with the actions you have announced so far, our social safety net will be severely inadequate to support those who lose their work and incomes because of this crisis, as well as those already out of work or unable to work for health or other reasons, all of whom now face increased living costs because of Covid-19.
Statutory Sick Pay is at an unliveable rate of £12.50 per day. A decade of real cuts means that other unemployment and social security benefits are similarly not enough to live on, worth less today in real terms than they were in the 1990s. Across the board, from Universal Credit to Carers’ Allowance, our social security provisions are insufficient to meet basic living costs, pushing those who rely on them into poverty, or debt, or both.
This crisis highlights the wholesale inadequacy of our social safety net and its inability to provide for the welfare of citizens and the nation as a whole at a time of national crisis. It is incumbent on the government to urgently move to provide a liveable income guarantee for all, including the homeless and people with no previous recourse to public funds, removing all punitive sanctions and payment delays. Self-isolation from Covid-19 simply cannot be a privilege only some can afford.
However, even with further action, these delays and gaps in the Government’s support package mean millions are already facing a dramatic drop in their incomes. Given the existing debt overhang, a more comprehensive household debt write-off will be needed in the post-Covid
period, to give families and the economy a fresh start. In the meantime, to prevent the further build-up of unfair and unsustainable household debt, we call on the government to:
1. Freeze repayments on all unsecured debt (including loans, credit cards, and rent-
to-own finance), with no accrual of interest during the repayment holiday
Those facing redundancy, loss of wages or other payment difficulties because of Covid-19 must be entitled to an immediate freeze on unsecured debt payments, similar to the mortgage holiday extended to homeowners, with no interest accumulated during the repayment holiday and no impairment of credit records.
2. Freeze utility, rent and council tax payments, with no build-up of arrears
More help must also be made available to impacted households in respect of council tax, rent and utility bills for those who need it, to ensure there is no build-up of arrears on these accounts. Central government should:
• Fund local authorities to provide 100% Council Tax Support to impacted households;
• Require landlords accessing mortgage holidays to pass that holiday onto tenants;
• Fund local authorities to make additional discretionary housing payments where rents are still required and cannot be paid;
• Provide help with gas and electricity costs by, for example, by broadening the scope and assistance provided through the Warm Home Discount Scheme.
3. Write-off council tax and social security debts
We welcome your move in the Budget to ease the burden on households of unfair council tax debt. In the face of Covid-19, it is essential to go further and provide breathing space to households under pressure by writing off the council tax debt and debt for overpayments of child benefit, working tax credit and Universal Credit: debts which, in a vast majority of cases, households have not intended to incur and which thousands are struggling to repay. Again, there should be full reimbursement to local councils by the government for resulting revenue losses.
4. Suspend all debt collection and enforcement activity with immediate effect
Broadening the Government’s pledge to protect renters by suspending all evictions, we call on the Government to suspend all collection activity on household debts and all enforcement activity by bailiffs, enforcement agents, and others.
Without this package of measures, the economic recovery from Covid-19 will be severely suppressed and millions more households will be pushed into the poverty, destitution and indignity of the growing household debt trap.
Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, has written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak highlighting the “many gaps and inconsistencies” remaining in the “delivery of the different schemes and their ability to provide support for businesses and jobs”.
Emphasising that “time is running out” to “provide sufficiently clear guidance” on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is due to launch on Monday, Dodds has called on the Government to “be clear that firms must avoid making redundancies wherever feasible”.
The Shadow Chancellor has also stated that the Government “must be prepared to go further” with the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, highlighting the low uptake in the scheme which has left the UK lagging “far behind other European countries in getting loans to struggling firms”.
Finally, Dodds has highlighted the lack of international cooperation in tackling the crisis. Stating that the UK should “lead global efforts to fight the virus”, Dodds notes that any “health and economic crisis in developing countries will spread rapidly to the UK and undermine any nascent recovery” and there is currently “no international agreement over Special Drawing Rights”.
The leader of the influential Unite trade union has urged the government today (Thursday 19 March) to act now to reassure working people that their incomes will be guaranteed if they are laid off from work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey is calling on the government to act by this week’s end to announce a comprehensive incomes support package to reassure millions of worried workers that this disease, which poses huge risks to public health, will not punish them economically too.
The Unite leader is also calling for a meeting with the chancellor and his team so that the unions can lay out the impact of this virus on workers’ incomes and future job security.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The calls now for major government action to defend incomes are coming from right across the political and social spectrum. I urge Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to hear them and to act swiftly.
“I am calling now for an urgent meeting between the Treasury and trade unions, including Unite, so that we can set out the reality of this virus for working people and the comprehensive package of measures that are needed to stave off nationwide penury.
“A comprehensive package of incomes support must be forthcoming by the end of this week or millions will fall into poverty. This will ruin our economy and take us into a recession economists say will be unlike anything seen before.
“We are working with our sister unions in Europe to monitor the support to workers there. The steps being taken by the Italian and Spanish governments, for example, are sensible and show what can be done by the state in a time of need. From the US to New Zealand governments are doing the responsible thing in acting to provide wage-level support. UK workers cannot be left to fend for themselves.
“While loans may work for some businesses, our experience has been that those monies don’tget any further than the boardroom. Workers are the people who spend in our shops and high streets. They need a steady supply of cash on a level that recognises the cost of livingdirected into their pockets or our economy will seize up. Our meagre benefit allowances just won’t cut it.
“This is a time like never before and it demands action from government like never before.My call now to the prime minister and his chancellor, is please act. Working people are facing an economic catastrophe. They need their government now more than ever.”
John McDonnell MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, has called on Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak to stop dithering and launch an international intervention to agree a global co-ordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying:
“Despite my repeated calls on four occasions in the last fortnight for the government to work internationally to co-ordinate a response to the coronavirus, there has been no leadership and no action from either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor. It seems Number 10 is following Donald Trump’s lead yet again.
“We are saying to Boris Johnson, bluntly, get off your backside and show some international leadership. That is what UK Prime Ministers of all political colours have traditionally done.
“So far Johnson seems to have self-isolated himself from his international responsibilities. We are facing the risk of a global recession so we need global economic co-ordination and a global economic strategy as Labour secured in the last major crisis of 2007/8.”