The ‘New Winter of Discontent’. The government is facing a wave of public sector strikes this Winter with nurses, border force staff, DWP officials, ambulances workers and more joining rail workers, postal workers and others who have walked out over pay disputes. (For a useful explainer on recent strikes, read Anoosh Chakelian’s myth-busting piece for the New Statesman.)
Public services, recruitment and retention. The primary context for these public sector strikes is clearly high inflation and the cost of living crisis, but it is also impossible to ignore the role that persistent pay constraint has had on public sector recruitment, retention, and morale over recent years. Public services, and the NHS in particular, are suffering from growing vacancies and skills shortages. IPPR’s Parth Patel explains that pay increases are crucial for maintaining NHS performance in an interview with Sky News. For instance, there are currently 47,000 nursing vacancies and around 1 in 3 public sector workers have taken steps to quit their profession or are actively taking steps to do so, with the majority citing low pay as the decisive factor. Without pay increases, public services will deteriorate. (The TUC analysis also found that nearly 1 million children in key worker households are growing up in poverty.)
Strikes expected to become the norm. What does the future hold for industrial action in the public sector? We can answer this partly by looking at the overall spending envelope going forwards. In the Autumn Statement last month, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt committed to the departmental budgets outlined in the 2021 Spending Review (with some exceptions). This was based on outdated inflation predictions, and locks departmental budgets until 2024/25. After this there will be even greater pressure, as departmental budgets are set to be squeezed again. In summary, the Institute for Government concludes that: “the reality is that from this year services are unlikely to see further large budget increases to deal with poor performance and an increasing share of their budgets will need to be spent on higher pay awards to keep services functioning”.
English Housing Survey. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has published the headline report of its annual English Housing Survey. It finds that the private rented sector has nearly doubled in size since the early 2000s and is the tenure with the highest proportion of “non-decent dwellings, with nearly a quarter of dwellings failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard”.
Talking about homes. Homes are seen primarily as “a source of investment and wealth” rather than “an essential foundation from which to build a decent life”, according to a new research by FrameWorks written in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Nationwide Foundation. The report, which involved interviews and focus groups with “a nationally representative sample of the UK population”, also finds a general belief that “inequalities in the current housing system are the result of ‘natural’ forces that are beyond anyone’s control”.
Platform worker protests. The Leeds Index of Platform Labour Protest, run by the University of Leeds, has launched a new bulletin highlighting trends in platform worker protest across the world. The first bulletin focuses on Mexico, with author Carlos Montaño explaining how “Mexican platform workers have found in informal means of organisation the seeds for collective bargaining”. In August this year, 25 worker collectives presented labour reform proposals in the form of a 10-point “Minimum Floor Manifesto” to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.
Strike watch. Workers at the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ Goodwood factory will no doubt act as inspiration to the many other workers taking industrial action this winter as they secure a 17.6% pay rise. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham called the deal “top notch” and said that the win was “a testament to the organising efforts of the Unite reps at Goodwood”.
Billionaire Britain. There has been a 20% increase in the number of UK billionaires since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report by the Equality Trust. It also finds that there has been a 1000% increase in UK billionaire wealth since 1990, with the number of billionaires increasing from 15 to 177 over the 32 year period.
Eradicating poverty. “A significant cut in poverty is possible”, argues inequality writer and academic Stewart Lansley, but requires “a fundamental shift in the way society works to ensure a much more equal sharing of the cake through an end to extraction”. He proposes that setting a “guaranteed, no questions-asked, non-means-tested income floor” would be a “powerful anti-poverty measure” that would create a “‘Plimsoll Line’ for incomes, below which no-one would fall”.
Interest rate hikes. The Bank of England has once again raised interest rates, this time to 3.5% (the highest level in 14 years). Six of the nine Monetary Policy Committee members voted for the 0.5% rise while one favoured a 0.75% rise.
Climate and the Labour Party. The Labour Party will enjoy more electoral success if it talks about the climate, according to research by the Labour Climate and Environment Forum: a new, independent organisation “working to strengthen climate and environmental ambition across the labour movement”. The report finds that climate and the environment remain top concerns for voters and that people’s perceptions of Labour Leader Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves improve when they hear them talking about climate policy. It also finds that “action on nature is just as important as action on climate” with 80% of people identifying cleaning up our water as a major or moderate priority.
Green investment for prosperity. A new paper by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) sets out how the UK can drastically reduce carbon emissions and address biodiversity loss while simultaneously tackling its macroeconomic challenges. It argues that there are a number of reasons why policymakers still have significant room for green investment. These include the fact that, according to IPPR calculations, the government will have £42 billion of fiscal headroom in 2023, the fact that these green investments can drive growth and therefore achieve a falling debt-to-GDP ratio, and the fact that the indirect benefits of green investment will lead to better health outcomes, therefore lowering the burden on public services. The paper also argues that macroeconomic modelling currently fails to account for the costs of climate inaction and that “better modelling will inform better policy”.
Cop15. Governments have reached an “historic deal” to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 after four years of negotiations culminated in late night talks in Montreal on Sunday. The agreement, which is signed by nearly 200 countries (excluding the US and the Vatican), includes a target to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade.