The credit card is maxed out when it comes to public sector pay but there's always money for war according to the Tories, writes Terina Hine
The government has made clear its priorities by granting the biggest increase in military spending in thirty years whilst simultaneously announcing a pay freeze for millions of workers.
The widely reported £16.5 billion increase does not include the increases already agreed, taken together this military extravagance amounts to the colossal sum of £21.5 billion – a 10-15% rise for the remainder of this parliament. This is on top of the MoD’s current £41.5 billion annual budget.
The UK already has the sixth largest defence budget in the world and tops the league table of military spending in Europe. So why this massive increase?
According to Boris Johnson, Britain has been “a nation in retreat” and needs to show the world a global Britain beyond Brexit: we need to compete militarily with cyber-weapons, give the army “whatever it needs”, and provide the navy with ships so that Britain can once again rule the waves. And to prove our commitment to the new US administration we must reaffirm our position within Nato as its second biggest contributor.
But do not be fooled. This is not spending to “defend the realm” as Johnson has claimed. It is spending for prestige and status, its aim, as the PM himself pointed out, is “to bolster our global influence.”
It is a move which has united the Tory backbenchers and has received support from many on the Labour benches. The PM’s move was clearly designed to get his backbenchers onside after a period of embarrassing government U-turns and days of chaos surrounding Dominic Cummings’ ignominious departure from Downing Street. It also helps distract from the mess the government has made of its Covid-19 response.
Unlike with the free school meals debacle, the “economically prudent” have failed to ask where the money will come from. We were told there is no money to feed hungry children, as the economy has suffered the “biggest annual contraction for 300 years”, yet apparently it is OK to spend over £21 billion extra on the military.
We will no doubt be hearing more about the dire economic conditions when Rishi Sunak presents his 2021-22 spending review. What we are unlikely to hear is that similar billions will be spent on the NHS, or on adult social care or on pay rises for frontline workers.
When £21.5 billion can be found to spend on war we are left puzzling about why there is no announcement to fund sick pay so workers can isolate during the pandemic, or to help schools implement Covid-19 restrictions or provide laptops for students missing school to self-isolate. Paltry amounts by comparison.
It was suggested that cuts to the overseas aid budget might help pay this extravagant military bill, yet it is generally thought that money spent on aid is a far less costly way to reduce international threats. But let us not forget, this announcement is not about making us safe.
We live in a country where families can’t get funeral costs covered when their loved ones die, where food bank usage has expanded beyond recognition, and homelessness is at a level not seen for decades; a country where front line workers have put their lives at risk throughout the pandemic and are clapped by way of thanks.
It is welcomed that NHS frontline workers will be exempt from the public sector pay freeze, but it is clear teachers, fire-fighters and other NHS workers will not be.
To help put into perspective the vast sums being discussed: £21.5 billion equates to almost twice that required to enable the current social care system to cope with expected demand and be properly staffed over the next four years, or it could provide funding to build 60 new hospitals. £21.5 billion is £6 billion more than the savings made by the proposed public sector pay freeze.
The £3 billion being spent on the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is a hundred times more than the cost of providing free school meals for the school holidays.
In its defence we are told that military procurement will aid “job creation” but these are jobs in weapons of war – why not invest in green technology instead? The £12 billion announced for the Conservative’s green revolution included considerable creative accounting, with numerous old projects being dressed up as new. Surely this is where the future lies and where serious investment should be directed?
The two biggest threats today are the climate crisis and the pandemic. Investing in weapons of war will keep us safe from neither. If the government was interested in either protecting or defending the British people, its first priority would not be to pour even money into its inflated military.
No increase in military spending!