Tomorrow we get the budget for growth. Against a backdrop of savage welfare changes and a shockingly high inflation rate, with spending cuts causing job losses across the public and voluntary sectors, and previous budget and Spending Review announcements cutting people’s incomes simply adding to the fun, George Osborne will try and tell us that all this pain will result in some gain.
The next step to our collective recovery is to grow the economy which begs the question, to grow what? What is the UK and even the Scottish economy all about? What kind of jobs do we want/need to create to set us fair for the future?
I’ve tried – really hard, honest – to see a bigger picture, a strategy, a thread even but it’s no good. I can’t see any sign of horizon mapping and planning. The only hint is that Osborne and his gang are dragging us back in time or at best, reckon that more of the same that got us into this mess, will do .
The first thing to sort out is it profits or jobs they want to grow? Shareholders dividends, bankers bonuses or the wage bill?
If they dismantle some of the supposed red tape around employment, such as protections against dismissal or reverse some yet to be implemented provisions around flexible working, will that really enable businesses to employ more people? Or will they – especially those with shareholders – simply pocket the gains from the more precarious and constrained terms and conditions existing employees “enjoy”?
Without insisting on our state-owned banks doing their bit to reduce the costs of borrowing and lend more money, what chance of small, family owned businesses in particular being able to grow, and therefore, increase their number of employees? Or do they just allow them to carry on doing what they aren’t doing, and rewarding themselves taxpayer funded, ever higher bonuses as a consequence?
Assuming that Osborne does attempt to establish the “right conditions” to create jobs, what kind of jobs? In arms? So we can continue our tawdry little history of exporting weapons to despots around the world, enabling them to suppress their peoples? In financial services, the so-called wealth generators whose fortunes were created through smoke and mirrors, who now depend on state aid to keep functioning? How does that differ I wonder from investment in the public sector?
Indeed, given that the approach to welfare reform involves chucking mainly lone parents and disabled people off their cushy numbers and out the door to work, is there a corresponding strategy that is going to make jobs, nay careers, available to people with quite distinct circumstances?
If there is, the burd is toiling to see it. Not when in local authorities across the UK, breakfast clubs and after school clubs – the kind of low cost, affordable childcare someone on a single wage can afford – are shutting. Not when even Tesco, which to be fair is the kind of employer willing and able to offer flexible and school hour working, is on a slowdown and cutting existing employees’ hours. And how to make the kind of low paid, part time work suitable for many lone parents – often returning to the workplace with out-of-date skills and knowledge – worth it without the safety net of tax credits and other income related benefits?
Disabled people struggled to get gainful employment when the times were good, when Access to Work had a big budget, when there was a New Deal in place to support them, when public sector bodies governed by equality duties and with accessible roles and workplaces were actually hiring not firing. How the hell does the government expect them to find jobs now, without using carrots and sticks – yep government support and strict employment rules, the very things they are doing away with – to tempt and cajole the private sector?
Even in Scotland, where the picture is less gloomy, the burd struggles to see the big picture behind the sustainable growth strategy. Yes, the capital programmes and the apprenticeships will all enable jobs to be created and skills to be developed. But isn’t the approach all a bit last century? Of course, we need new schools, hospitals, even roads. But what then? Examples of Scotland’s growth in action amount to warehouse jobs for Amazon – nice; design and construction roles for tidal wave schemes and one presumes, thereafter, a handful of maintenance jobs; whisky distilling and bottling which are increasingly high tech and therefore, low labour; and er, fish farms.
Wow. That’s the kind of knowledge economy we need huh? The kind that Finland can only dream of, in its worst nightmares. I look at this sort of “growth” and wonder and worry how the chicklets will fashion careers that pay well enough to give them a decent standard of living.
But enough of being churlish: at least Scotland’s economy is growing, albeit slowly, unemployment is falling, for the eighth month in a row, and about to invest in record numbers of young people’s skills and training. Hurrah for having even limited controls and levers for our economy.
At the end of a post that poses more questions than answers, a final one.
Even supposing Osborne magics a growth key out of his little red box today, given that most folk are on pay freezes, some are on cuts, more will be hammered by a combination of tax credit losses, National Insurance hikes and housing benefit changes and others are struggling just to keep up with the impact of rampant inflation on food, fuel and other basics –
What’s the point of a budget for growth, if no one can afford to do or buy anything anyway?