A mini-budget that defies reality

The mini-budget seeks to persuade us that tax cuts will bring prosperity for all, but the arguments, particularly on part-time work, just don’t wash without proper investment in the care infrastructure.

Woman leans on a table looking depressed

 

Friday’s so-called mini budget marks not just a widening of the gap between the richest and poorest in society, but a failure of Government to understand – or care about – what the reality is like on the ground for many people. While encouraging people to work longer hours could boost their incomes, there is a failure to understand why many people have to work reduced hours. This is not just about the complex ways that the benefits system works, but about the crumbling care infrastructure which makes it impossible for many to work longer.

That’s not just childcare – which many opt out of altogether due to the expense and lack of availability, therefore limiting the hours they can work – but other forms of care, including domiciliary care.

While the Government claims to be addressing the childcare costs issue by reducing the number of staff to children in nurseries, there is widespread agreement among providers that this will do little to cut parents’ bills and will damage the quality of childcare in the process. That is because of years and years of underfunding of ‘free’ places by central government.

The same goes for care. Local authority budgets have been squeezed for years. They cannot afford to pay care agencies the kind of money that would properly cover their costs. Hence carers’ wages are at the minimum – and below for those who don’t get paid for training or for travel between clients. No wonder they are leaving to take jobs elsewhere. No amount of PR campaigns about the rewards of caring are going to make a significant difference to this. Bringing in workers from abroad will help, but it doesn’t solve the long-term domestic problem. Caring is a vital, skilled job, but it is treated like the lowest of the low because its value lies in something other than money. Yet to make money in all the other industries requries a good care system to be in place.

The Government has recently announced extra money for the care system, but unless that leads to signficant increases in the funding local authorities and the NHS can give to care staff it will not make a huge dent in the problem. Staffing is central to the problems facing the care service across the board and that means increased wages and massive investment in training and planning for the future because the country’s care needs are only going to rise as the population continues to age.

Moreover, there’s little point giving people over 50 increased one to one time with work coaches to help them into work if you don’t tackle the reasons why many have dropped out of the workforce in the first place. We know that long term health issues are central to this, whether that is a result of the NHS backlog, increased caring responsibilities due to a lackof investment in care services, long Covid and mental health issues resulting from Covid or other reasons.

Yes, tailored support for over 50s struggling to get back to work is important [although the aim seems only to help jobseekers and not the vast number of economically inactive older workers], but if you don’t do all the other things to support them will they stay there? That includes providing part-time work. Which brings us back to the beginning. Sanctioning low paid part-time workers won’t help people to work longer if they simply can’t. It’s just another punishment. Low paid jobs need to be better paid and valued. Wealthy bankers don’t need even more money and isn’t the argument that it is needed to lure them from Europe just an admission that Brexit maybe wasn’t quite what it was presented to be? Lifting the cap on bonuses only feeds the spiral of greed we have seen too often before, which tends to lead to irresponsible risk-taking and disaster for the whole economy, particularly the lowest paid.



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