By Thomas Carmichael
Against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent social and economic hardships that have been inflicted on ordinary people as a result, the Stormont draft budget comes as a slap in the face, particularly to the frontline workers who have kept society functioning over the last year.
Described by University of Ulster economists as “very challenging”, the budget contains “only a marginal cash increase in core funding for day-to-day spending” according to the BBC, while some departments will see their budget fall below their pre-Covid budget in real terms. Health spending is due to increase by 5.7% but experts say this won’t be enough to address existing shortfalls or to tackle post-pandemic waiting lists. The extension of furlough is welcome news to workers but doesn’t go far enough. 80% of a wage that wasn’t enough to begin with is not an acceptable living situation.
During the first three months of the pandemic alone the collective wealth of the UK’s billionaires rose by £25 billion. This figure, amassed in a time in which the country’s economy shrank by more than 20%, puts the paltry Stormont budget in its proper context and shows it – and the obscenely low pay-offers for essential workers – for the disgrace that it really is. The wealth and resources are there to fully fund all our public services, combat the pandemic and ensure no loss of earnings for workers. It is the callous approach of the Tories at Westminster and their counterparts at Stormont – both Orange and Green – that is to blame for this underfunding and the hardships endured by ordinary people as a result.
While it is easy to wave away the problems of the budget as entirely the fault of the Tories, it is ultimately symptomatic of the overall capitalist system, which concentrates the bulk of society’s wealth in the smallest number of hands. This system, which is incapable of dealing with a crisis without putting the burden on the working class, is upheld by the Executive parties in Stormont every bit as much as it is upheld by the Tories in Westminster. The only way to secure the funding needed to make a difference to people’s lives, and to secure a recovery from the pandemic that works for ordinary people and not just the billionaire class, is through a campaign of mass action against austerity, against tax breaks for the 1% and, ultimately, through a fundamental break from the capitalist system, in favour of a socialist alternative