Unions welcome Spring Statement sanitary product announcement … but little else

Unions have welcomed the government’s plan to provide free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year … but little else in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement.

Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean said: “The chancellor’s commitment to make sanitary products available in schools in England is a victory for Unite’s period campaign and builds on commitments Unite has secured from global companies and metro mayors.

“Unite has been at the forefront of campaigning for sanitary products to be available at no cost in workplaces and public buildings so that women and girls can have period dignity.

“We trust the government views the chancellor’s commitment as a first step in making sanitary products freely available at no cost across all public buildings in the UK and ensure VAT is removed as soon as possible.

“We also trust that funding for the chancellor’s commitment will be ring fenced and ongoing rather than a one off payment.”  

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “As usual there was little for struggling local services. Schools, social care, hospitals and youth services are all begging for extra resources.

“Urgent help is needed to deal with growing problems caused by almost a decade of harsh spending cuts. But a government paralysed by Brexit is unable to respond to their plight.

“The Chancellor’s statement will be swiftly forgotten, but the consequences of inaction will continue to scar communities for generations to come.”

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Parents, teachers, heads, school staff and MPs from across the House will be dismayed that the Chancellor did not address the national school funding crisis.

“Philip Hammond’s boast that the economy is in recovery prompts the question of why he cannot address the issue of school funding now. Following his ‘little extras’ gaffe last year, it remains the case that the Chancellor is out of touch with the issues schools face on a daily basis. There is nothing new for children with SEND who are not getting adequate provision, nor for teachers who use their own money to resource lessons, or head teachers with difficult decisions to make around the lengths of the school day.

“The Chancellor had an opportunity today to end uncertainty for schools about budget planning. He failed.

“The NEU welcomes the funding of free sanitary products in secondary schools. No girl should miss out on education because they cannot afford such essentials.”

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: “Having a period should not be a barrier to education and we welcome the chancellor’s promise to provide free sanitary products in schools and colleges. He should now take that extra step and provide them for university students too, as in Scotland.

“Ensuring that sanitary products are available to all students will enable women and girls facing real hardship to be able to attend their classes in comfort and dignity.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The chancellor’s Spring Statement offered nothing to put a spring in the step of families whose incomes have gone into reverse, or the car workers and manufacturing communities whose livelihoods are under threat.

“This was a Spring Statement from a government that has run out of road and run out of ideas, dominated by the Brexit chaos of its own making.

“With the planned closure of Honda’s Swindon plant threatening the livelihoods of 15,000 people, it was absent of the need to support UK manufacturing and our beleaguered car industry through the transition to electric and alternatively powered vehicles.

“Instead it was a masterclass in denial of the damage successive Tory governments have wrought on people and their communities. Philip Hammond glossed over the fact that in work poverty is on the rise and inequality growing   amid the longest wage squeeze since the Napoleonic era and catastrophic austerity.

“For all Theresa May and her government’s talk of tackling burning injustices, working people know that they will burn fiercer, for longer while the Conservatives remain in charge of the economy.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The forthcoming full three-year spending review is needed urgently to tackle the serious financial pressures affecting delivery of education and other vital public services for children and young people.

“The Chancellor’s speech today may provide promises for future government spending but it provides nothing to meet the pressing needs of schools today.

“The era of austerity will continue despite the Chancellor’s statement. Teachers and headteachers will be looking to the government urgently to address the years of real-terms cuts to school budgets and the drastic erosion of teachers’ salaries which has contributed to the current teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

“The NASUWT welcomes the Chancellor’s commitment to fund access to free sanitary products for pupils in secondary schools from next year. However, it is vital that this scheme is extended to cover all primary schools and colleges to ensure that no girl misses out on her education or has her dignity compromised due to period poverty.

“The fact that so many families cannot afford sanitary products for their children is in itself a reflection of the shameful indictment on the Government’s policies, which have hit the poorest hardest, and especially children and young people.

“The Chancellor would do well to poverty impact assess any future government spending priorities and decisions.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Chancellor made no mention of the ‘Armageddon’ on our high streets, as the British Retail Consortium describes the current state of the retail sector. With footfall in long-term decline, 20,000 store closures since 2015 and 93,000 jobs lost last year, we needed action from the Government to help turn it around, not silence.

“Restating the commitment to increase the so-called ‘national living wage’ to 60% of median earnings is some reassurance, but the Office of Budget Responsibility now predicts that will result in only £8.72 per hour, a long way short of the original promise of over £9.

“We need a long-term strategy that delivers decent pay, secure jobs and changes attitudes towards retail work; giving shopworkers the respect they deserve. That means good pay of at least £10 per hour, a proper contract that reflects the normal hours worked and enough hours every week to make a living.

“Working families have also suffered from benefit freezes, which the Chancellor confirmed will not be ended early as he was urged to ditch £1.4 billion of welfare cuts due to come in next month, and they are set to be worse off still when transferred onto Universal Credit. Today the Chancellor did not address this continuing issue impacting so many low-paid workers. Usdaw continues to believe this can only be sorted with a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit and a fundamental rethink of the policy.

“These are significant issues that our members face and need substantial interventions from the Government. It appears the Chancellor is not listening.”

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