Unforgivable choices – Lib Dems respond to the Spending Review

For the second time in three days, Christine Jardine pressed the Government to do more to help those who have thus far been excluded from Government support. Three million self-employed people have had nothing since March and some have had no income at all because they work in areas that aren’t yet open. In March they were stressed. Eight months on, they are desperate.

Rishi Sunak was dismissive, but not as egregious as Boris Johnson had been the other day when Christine questioned him.

“I hope we haven’t excluded anyone” said the PM. If he doesn’t know that there is a massive All-Party Parliamentary Group fighting for these people, if he hasn’t been aware of the many questions that have been asked in Parliament, then that shows unforgivable ignorance. If he did know of the plight of the three million, his remarks show callous disregard.

Later, Christine talked to BBC News arguing against the public sector pay freeze and the abandonment of the 0,7% aid target.

On that international aid issue, Wendy Chamberlain highlighted how the Government had gone back on its word:

Ed Davey said that the Chancellor had made some unforgivable political choices:

With the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the Chancellor needed to ensure today that no one is left behind. That was the litmus test, and he has failed.

Far from a radically new approach to the recovery that tackles deep-seated inequality and builds a new green economy, we have a Government that is failing to support carers, children living in poverty and everyone in need of mental health services.

The Chancellor has also made some unforgivable political choices today. He has chosen to continue to ignore people excluded from support and chosen to reject calls to properly extend furlough, leaving too many people facing unemployment. People deserve better.

The party website has an article which outlines the LIb Dem priorities for the spending review. They are to protect jobs, build a green economic recovery, support carers, support children in low-income households with free school meals and the technology to make sure they are not left behind, provide mental health support and scrap the public sector pay freeze.

Today’s statement does little to help those who are struggling the most with the impact of the pandemic and offers little in the way of ambition for a fair recovery that puts the future of the planet at its heart. To say it’s disappointing barely cuts it.

And Lib Dem London Mayoral Candidate Luisa Porritt highlighted the plight of the million Londoners who are freelancers and who haven’t received any Government support:

“The Government’s anti-London agenda must stop. While the Spending Review document notes employment levels fell by the most in London, the only references to London besides that are about taking jobs away from the capital.

“The Chancellor must recognise that London has among the poorest areas in the country. ‘Levelling Up’ must happen within all regions, rather than the Government choosing crudely between them.

“We need urgent clarity on who will be eligible for the new £4 billion Levelling Up Fund. With the Government’s track record, I am concerned London will be ignored once again. The capital was excluded from the Towns Fund earlier this year, and the stated conditions hint at London again missing out.

“The 600 neighbourhoods that make up our capital will be vital to our economic recovery. Local high streets are at the heart of that. They require urgent investment, to help local economies to meet new demand from homeworkers and rediscover their purpose at the centre of our communities.

On the continued exclusion of almost one million Londoners from Government financial support, Luisa Porritt added:

“The Chancellor’s continued exclusion of nearly a million Londoners from financial support is a disgrace. London’s flexible workforce is particularly badly hit, with the largest number of the Excluded living in the capital. From barbers to bookkeepers, our army of forgotten freelancers make our city what it is. The Chancellor’s choice to ignore these Londoners is unforgivable.”

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • The poor treatment of freelancers and the “lifestyle business” self employed has been a problem for quite some time. When academic reports refer to them as “muppets”, it’s not really a surprise, is it. As far as the research seems to go businesses don’t effectively grow the economy and therefore have no power base to protect them. The research may well be valuing the wrong thing entirely.

    This does also feed into the levelling up issue and the London problem. Reading the skills shortage research, for example, we can see that while we have a lot of computing graduates, we also have a higher level than would be expected of underemployment in that area and a shortage of skills at a managerial level – people can’t get managerial jobs without managerial experience… these are the jobs that, particularly in London, are likely to be filled by workers imported through the new points system effectively reinforcing the managerial ceiling for London’s workers.

    Nothing that has been announced will change any of the structural problems that our country has, and none of it seems to recognise what people even want, or have asked for – homes, progression, stability, autonomy, etc.

    It cannot even be blamed on Covid or Brexit. They just don’t get it. It’s a powder keg, just waiting to explode.

  • Neil Sandison 26th Nov '20 - 10:30am

    Christine Jardine is right to raise concerns about those left behind during the COVID 19 crisis . Rising 3 year olds at nurseries attached to primary schools do not get free school meals and even if their parents are furloughed or unemployed are being asked on average to find £2.35 per meal plus a monthly amount of £ 175.00 per month for a hot meal to cover lunch time cover staff . On significantly reduced incomes parents cannot afford to pay and are being offered food vouchers at food banks . Schools are having to wright off the debt so children do not go without This smacks so much of the deserving poor Victorian work house ethos of the conservatives party Little Oliver has to ask the Beagle for some more , Again this is in term time not holiday time which they gave into the Rashford campaign It could be met by increasing the pupil premium to cover nurseries and rising 3s at school for those who are furloughed or recently unemployed.

  • Helen Dudden 26th Nov '20 - 11:12am

    I agree, it’s sad in this day and age to think a child is hungry.
    Hancock recently stated he had spent £40,000 on takeaways for those working in his department.

  • Moderator’s note: A comment posted here earlier has been deleted at the request of the person who wrote it.

  • I think a public sector pay freeze of some form or other was going to happen regardless, the Chancellor simply stated the obvious. I think the public sector unions with their mock outrage have shown just how out of touch they are with the country, thinking only of me, me, me.

    As pointed out in the article many have lost out (ie. income from ££ to zero) and many more will potentially lose out in the coming months as the economy downsizes and changes with very few of these being public sector workers…

  • Steve Trevethan 26th Nov '20 - 5:47pm

    Might it be more effective to use less emotional and more objective language?
    Might it be more efficient and effective to analyse Mr. Sunak’s statements in detail?

    Might it be worth considering funding the costs of covid under plural headings such as the following?
    * Reducing unneeded living costs such as excessive financial costs and Intellectual Property Protection costs
    * Taxation
    * Reducing/removing the tax benefits for the very wealthy such as tax havens
    * Money creation
    * Reducing expenditures on the military
    (Why do we pay for 142 overseas bases in 42 countries whilst conniving at our children starving?)
    In which currencies are we borrowing?
    Why use comparisons between private and public work rather than comparisons between the value of work to society and incomes?

  • @Mark,
    I wasn’t criticizing public sector workers, only their union representatives and those who thought the government wasn’t going to implement some form of public sector pay constraint…

    From your list of woes, it seems you have been working in the same world and thus under the same pressures and worries about job security as myself. From conversations with family and friends who work in the public sector, I do get the impression that their view on what is normal is very different to mine, namely, they feared some of the changes and disruptions to their routine that I take as being part of normal working life.

    >“Brilliant Civil Service”
    That’s an interesting one, given the propensity with which the (Conservative) Government has thrown money at those with connections to the Conservative party (eg. Brexit ferries, PPE procurement, Test&Trace) rather than involve either the civil service/public sector or those businesses already operating in the relevant sectors. I think getting the relationship right between Westminster and the Civil Service will go a long way to getting the investment the civil service actually needs…

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 26th Nov '20 - 9:54pm


    The problem is that, for most of my thirty plus years as a Civil Servant, the argument for pay increases that lag behind the private sector was (broadly) that our conditions are better, our jobs more secure. Effectively, trading income for security, and I get that. Indeed, I rather foolishly horrified colleagues a quarter-century ago by suggesting that, if the Government wanted to cut 80% of our staff, they had every right to, as long as they understood and accepted the consequences.

    The problem is that the bargain is broken. After the last recession, there was an acceptance that pay restraint was required, but as things improved in the wider economy, public sector pay remained suppressed. Not only were public sector staff not keeping up with wage growth in the wider economy but were falling further and further behind inflation.

    Paybill growth has risen a bit in recent years, but much of that has gone towards lifting our lowest paid colleagues in line with the National Living Wage – and yes, that does mean that a significant number of trained HMRC helpline staff are earning no more than they would do stacking shelves. And, whilst paybill increases are announced, Departmental budgets seldom increase by as much, squeezing staffing numbers, and reducing service provision.

    Pay differentials within grades are now a serious problem, with staff with many years experience earning thousands of pounds less than colleagues doing the same job at similar performance and productivity levels. If you tried that in the private sector, you’d be facing an employment tribunal.

    That perhaps explains why those public sector workers you talk to take the view that they do. Having already sacrificed income over many years with their conditions as justification, they’re being asked to give up those conditions too.

    It’s no wonder that, in good economic times, or in sectors where salaries are hopelessly uncompetitive, recruitment and retention are problematic. To give you an example, a tax senior in Norfolk can expect £45,000 per annum, and a tax inspector £30,000. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who’s more likely to attract talent.

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