The Tory plan to punish low-paid workers for striking

Workers who go on strike will lose their tax credits.

While the eyes of the world were on Greece, the Conservatives quietly launched a new assault on workers' rights. Iain Duncan Smith announced that low-paid workers will lose their benefits if they go on the strike. Under the current system, workers on wages of £13,000 or less can claim tax credits. But under IDS's proposals, there will be no increase in benefits if a worker's income drops due to strike action. He said:

It is totally wrong that the current benefit system compensates workers and tops up their income when they go on strike. This is unfair to taxpayers and creates perverse incentives.

Striking is a choice, and in future benefit claimants will have to pay the price for that choice, as under universal credit, we no longer will.

It's hard to think of a more inappropriate attack on the right to strike. Low-paid workers (in this case, those on wages just over £13,000) are often those with the greatest cause to walk out. Indeed, as I've argued before, if ministers want to tackle Britain's substandard wages, they should encourage stronger, not weaker, trade unions. And as the TUC's head of economics, Nicola Smith, pointed out, since the money workers lose in pay while striking is "far more significant than the small amounts of top-ups they get through the tax credits system", it is also inaccurate of Duncan Smith to suggest that the current system "creates perserve incentives".

Labour has already spoken out against the plans, with shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne accusing Duncan Smith of "starving people back to work". But again, one asks, where are the Lib Dems?

Remploy factory workers demonstrate outside the Department for Work and Pensions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.