On the latest episode of Radio 4‘s Any Questions Green Party MP Caroline Lucas made this exact point. Responding to an audience member who asked, “How have we got a situation where strikes are effecting the majority of public sector services?”, Lucas explained that the government is “made up of millionaires and is running the country for the millionaires”.
She told the audience in Sussex: “Well, we’ve had 13 years of austerity, and a government that frankly is made up of millionaires and is running the country for the millionaires, and doesn’t much care about the rest of us.”
“I think there’s a real concern that they were just hoping they could sit out these strikes weren’t they. They were hoping that there wouldn’t be enough public support for public sector workers and that they would just be able to tough it out.”
“And when you see as well, the government’s priorities – that they will find the money for the richest, but they won’t find the money for some of the poorest.”
THE Tories are “waging war on working people,” unions warned today as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Budget coincided with a massive day of strikes by hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide.
Unions slammed the ex-Tory leadership candidate’s “fiscal event” for failing to tackle pay disputes across the country, with teachers, university lecturers, civil servants, junior doctors, London Tube drivers and BBC journalists all downing tools today.
As Mr Hunt delivered his speech, thousands of workers rallied outside.
They gathered as the Office for Budget Responsibility, which the former health secretary praised for predicting Britain would now avoid a technical recession this year, warned that people still face the biggest fall in living standards on record.
BRITAIN’S biggest strike surge in decades was the elephant in the room, almost ignored in the Chancellor’s Budget speech.
The huge strike march winding through Whitehall wasn’t referenced by either front bench. Yet the demands for proper pay rises and investment in public services it championed speak more directly to people’s concerns than any of Jeremy Hunt’s headline announcements.
Hunt referred vaguely to inflation as the cause of industrial disputes — before dishonestly citing it as the reason the government is denying workers the pay rises they need and deserve.
His dishonesty didn’t end there. The government is doing everything it can to resolve the disputes, the Chancellor claimed.
MORE than two-thirds of Brits think the NHS in underfunded, including a majority of Tory voters, a damning new poll published today reveals.
The Opinium survey — commissioned by Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) — shows 67 per cent of all voters and 58 per cent of Conservative supporters want austerity-hit health services to receive more cash.
Nearly seven in 10 of the 2,000 adults consulted think the NHS is performing badly, with 55 per cent blaming Downing Street for the deterioration in services, which have also been hit by national strikes since December over plummeting take-home pay and worsening patient safety.
Close to three-quarters — 72 per cent — want the health service to be a “fully or mostly public service,” the poll also shows.
It came ahead of what is expected to be a massive national demonstration in central London on Saturday, when the more than 50 organisations involved in the KONP-founded SOS NHS campaign will gather to demand better.
TENS of thousands of teachers launched three days of strike action today in their continuing battle for fair pay and funding for schools.
National Education Union (NEU) members mobilised on picket lines and in regional protests and rallies in northern England while Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) and NASUWT members struck in Scotland.
They went ahead despite a government attempt to blackmail education union leaders by telling them talks could take place on pay – but only if the strike action was suspended.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, whose government has overseen education funding cuts which have seen schools fall into disrepair and unable to replace staff who leave, called the strike action “unforgivable.”
The NEU outright rejected the government’s attempt to bully teachers into suspending the strikes in return for pay talks.
RMT announced further strike action today, as well as an overtime ban in the ongoing battle with bosses over pay, job security and working conditions.
Rail union RMT will take nationwide strike action across the railways on March 16 after employers refused to put any new offers on the table.
The union, which represents 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 train operators, rejected offers from employers last week, as they did not meet the needs of members on pay, job security or working conditions.
Unions warn of further action as nurses and ambulance workers down tools in biggest-ever walkout
A“CONSTANT cycle of national NHS pay strikes will continue for as long as it takes,” unions warned today, as tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers downed tools in the biggest-ever health service walkout.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which began a 48-hour strike, said members at 73 health trusts across England withdrew their labour — a massive increase on the 44 that saw action in December’s first walkout.
Unite and GMB paramedics, call handlers and other staff at ambulance trusts also joined the massive industrial action, which NHS leaders said caused “huge disruption.”
Ahead of further strikes by physiotherapists on Thursday and ambulance staff — including Unison members — on Friday, union leaders urged Tory ministers to act on years of falling take-home wages, saying the situation is driving a worker exodus and endangering patient safety.
Energy companies received more than 140,000 complaints about their treatment of customers in debt last year alone, openDemocracy can reveal.
They included 33,000 complaints about the fitting or disconnecting of pre-payment meters.
Yet the energy regulator Ofgem was only forced into action this week when an undercover Times investigation found British Gas had sent bailiffs to break into vulnerable people’s homes and fit the meters by force. It has now asked energy companies to pause the practice.
The data, obtained by openDemocracy through a Freedom of Information request, has revealed for the first time the scale of alleged mistreatment of vulnerable customers since the energy price cap was first hiked in April.
“Ofgem has known about this crisis for years, and so have the companies themselves. Suppliers are not being honest when they act like they’ve just discovered it and they’re shocked, like the CEO of Centrica did yesterday,” Ruth London, co-founder of the Fuel Poverty Action campaign group, told openDemocracy.
Energy companies are required to report the number of complaints they receive from customers every month to Ofgem. Between January and October last year, they received 146,046 complaints related to disconnection and debt issues – though Ofgem has refused to tell us which suppliers received the most.
The category includes complaints from customers about their energy supply being disconnected or having a prepayment meter installed forcibly without a warrant or despite them being vulnerable.
Other examples of complaints include customers being disconnected by error or without due process and being put on debt repayment plans that are unsuitable or unaffordable.
The true number of people being ill-treated is likely to be much higher. Ofgem revealed yesterday that customers were being left on hold for hours by energy companies, leading to more than half hanging up before they could report an issue.
Ofgem said revealing how many complaints different companies had received would breach Section 105 of the 2000 Utilities Act, which states that the public disclosure of information companies supply to the regulator is prohibited in order to protect national security. The law has previously been criticised for preventing whistleblowers from raising issues about the energy sector that are in the public interest.
But charities have criticised the regulator for ignoring calls to end the practice for months.
“Lives have been and are being lost because of their silence and refusal to act on the truth they have long known,” said London.
Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it “should not have taken this long” for Ofgem to act.
The charity said it saw more people unable to afford to top up their pre-payment metre last year than for the entirety of the previous decade combined.
The Times reported this week that British Gas customers who had prepayment meters forcibly installed included a woman in her 50s who the company’s bailiffs were told had severe mental health problems and a mother whose “daughter is disabled and has a hoist and electric wheelchair”.
The paper’s undercover investigation also alleged that the Arvato Financial Solutions employees were incentivised with bonuses to fit prepayment meters. The boss of British Gas owner Centrica apologised and said he was “disappointed, livid and gutted” on Thursday.
Peter Smith, policy director at the charity National Energy Action, said: “The recent announcement by major suppliers that they would temporarily pause forced installations of pre-payment meters is welcome, but this was prompted by public shaming of suppliers and there is still no market-wide ban.
“We also desperately need a coherent plan to help millions of people already trapped on prepayment meters. This means rewiring the energy market to provide more affordable tariffs and finding new ways to address the underlying debt issues which are rife due to soaring energy costs.”
Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “We welcome Ofgem’s move to suspend the forced installation of prepayment meters (PPMs), but it’s clear that thousands of households have been struggling with energy bills for some time now, which is evident in our own client data.
“For the people that have already been moved onto PPMs, there must be better protection to prevent self-disconnection and extreme energy rationing.”
Half a million workers down tools over pay, jobs and working conditions
BRITAIN faces its biggest day of strike action in more than a decade today as up to half a million workers down tools over pay, jobs and working conditions.
Teachers, lecturers, civil servants and train and bus drivers are set to withdraw their labour simultaneously, as the fightback against more than a decade of Tory austerity gathers pace.
The TUC is holding events nationwide as part of its “protect the right to strike day” after ministers rushed “authoritarian and draconian” anti-worker legislation through the Commons on Monday night.
The union body demanded the government drop the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which is likely to face stiff opposition in the House of Lords, and instead “get round the table to negotiate in good faith on public-sector pay.”
MORE than 50 human rights and civil liberties groups slammed the Tory government’s new anti-strike legislation today as an attack on the fundamental right to take industrial action.
An open letter, penned by groups including Liberty, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, said the proposals would allow “a further significant and unjustified intrusion by the state into the freedom of association and assembly.”
Ministers prepared to rush the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill through its final stages in the Commons last night, claiming public services need safeguarding amid the biggest strike wave in decades.