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Jeremy Hunt’s finances failing to assist public service in disaster, say academics | Industrial motion

March 16, 2023
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Jeremy Hunt’s budget failed to help a public sector at “crisis point”, striking teachers said on Wednesday as they demonstrated in Trafalgar Square.

The National Education Union’s action in England was part of the largest day of stoppages since the wave of strikes began last year, with more than 400,000 workers across sectors striking because of pay disputes.

Teachers joined London Underground staff from the Aslef and RMT unions, junior doctors on day 3 of their action, civil servants from the Public and Commercial Services Union who demonstrated outside Downing Street, BBC journalists protesting about cuts to local radio output and, in the private sector, Amazon staff in Coventry.

Some of those in Trafalgar Square welcomed the chancellor’s £4bn expansion of 30 hours of free childcare to all preschool children aged from nine months from 2025, as well as the increased tax-free pension allowance.

Tamsin Wildy, a secondary school head of year, said that at first glance the budget seemed to include some important provisions to reduce the cost of childcare. “I think that it’s good for childcare, and that change sounds really important,” she said.

But she had reservations about the plans to encourage older people back to work. “I’m intrigued about the pension increase and the idea that we have to have more people staying in work until later years,” she said.

“At the moment it’s looking like I won’t be able to retire until I’m around 68 or 69, and I can imagine that that will go up again.”

Wildy also expressed disappointment at the budget neglecting to mention provisions for the public sector. “They’re ignoring the situation,” she said. “This is about the public sector as a whole, which is at a crisis point.”

Laura, 30, a music teacher working across secondary schools, also expressed frustration at the changes to pensions, in particular the encouragement of older people to return to work or continue working until a later age.

2023 budget: Jeremy Hunt overhauls childcare, pensions and disability benefits – video highlights2023 budget: Jeremy Hunt overhauls childcare, pensions and disability benefits – video highlights

“It’s not surprising at all to hear that they want to raise the pension age. It feels like I’m going to work until I die anyways as a zero-hours worker,” she said.

“It feels very abstract to hear about it when you’re already tied to the fact that you’re going to work until you die.”

But for Laura, the fight for higher pay for teachers took precedent over the budget.

“The whole situation with pay, for my colleagues but also myself who is a zero-hours worker, it’s just absolutely ridiculous. It’s not a situation which can continue and we’re all fed up of it.”

Patrick Neving, a social sciences lecturer at Bournemouth University also attending the NEU’s rally, was disappointed with the budget.

“I think it’s the usual attempt to give crumbs to the majority of the population who are increasingly impoverished to appease them, and to roll out the future of Britain with new lower corporation tax and private sector support,” he said.

Like many, Neving believed that the pension changes would not be a quick fix to mobilise the UK’s workforce.

“I know that in France, millions of people are on strike against raising the retirement age above 60; here we are working up to 67 already,” he said.

“I think that’s more than enough. So if the country is failing to have a significant workforce, what we need is more funding for education and a better trained, happier and educated workforce. This is the solution.”

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