By Bill Heaney
Jeremy Hunt announced the national minimum wage will increase but officials predict household incomes will fall by 7%.
The chancellor’s autumn budget is hitting Scottish workers with a “sleekit tax” despite increasing the minimum wage, a senior union boss has warned.
Jeremy Hunt announced the national minimum wage will increase 9.7% to £10.42 an hour from April – a pay rise of £1,600 for full-time workers.
It will also rise to £10.18 an hour for 21 and 22-year-olds, to £7.49 for those aged 18-20, and to £5.28 an hour for under-18s and apprentices.
But Roz Foyer, pictured right, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), used the Scots language term “sleekit” – meaning sly or sneaky – to describe Hunt’s announcement.
Hunt also announced tax increases and spending cuts totalling £55bn – with the Scottish Government urged not to repeat the decisions north of the border.
She said: “Working people should not be thankful for a meagre rise in the minimum wage whilst the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) predicts their incomes will be reduced by 7%.
“This is in addition to a sleekit tax on workers through the elongated freeze on national insurance contributions.
“We need wealth taxes, not stealth taxes, and the Scottish Government must not repeat the mistakes of this beleaguered chancellor seeking to cover the tracks of his predecessor.
The chancellor also outlined that benefits will rise in line with inflation – a move that has been welcomed by child poverty campaigners.
However, John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said the autumn statement will not be enough to stop “the ice from cracking under struggling families”.
He added: “This is only the fourth time UK benefits have risen by inflation in the last 10 years. As a result, there are almost four million children living in poverty in the UK, over a quarter of a million of them in Scotland alone.”
Mr Dickie, pictured left, urged the UK Government to match Scottish Government investment in tackling child poverty, following the increase of the Scottish Child Payment to £25 per week.
“The chancellor now needs to go further and work to restore the value of UK family benefits so that our social security system never again leaves children so brutally exposed to the kinds of health and economic shocks we have seen in the last few years,” he added.
“Scrapping the two-child limit and a £20 uplift to child benefit would be good places to start.”
Hunt’s statement has also been called a “bad budget” by the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, which claimed it could see more students sink into poverty.
She said: “Make no mistake, this is a bad budget for students here in Scotland – more austerity, more poverty, more poverty pay for young people and apprentices, and no action on the climate emergency.
“What future can students hope for when our economy is tanking and our planet burning?”
The NUS is urging the Scottish Government to consider the action it will take in its December budget.
She added: “Those with the broadest shoulders must be asked to contribute more to protect the most vulnerable through this crisis.
“Students must not be forgotten, we need action now on poverty, homelessness, travel costs and mental health.
“The UK budget was silent on student poverty but the Scottish Government now has an opportunity to rectify this error and deliver on its promises to students in Scotland.”