On Wednesday of this week, the grandly titled Chancellor of the Exchequer set out the UK government’s financial plans for the coming year and beyond. With his trademark red leather briefcase in hand, Philip Hammond set out to the House of Commons to deliver his speech with the key facts and figures we needed to know.
Because this was a Conservative Chancellor, part of a Conservative government, there was little actual good news for the majority of the country. Measures that will hit the working classes particularly hard include increased duty on cigarettes and high-alcohol ciders, though the tax-free personal allowance is due to rise to £11,850 and the minimum wage will rise slightly. Having said that, the threshold for the higher rate of tax is rising, too, to £46,350 and measures to reduce Stamp Duty for first-time home buyers are said to benefit sellers over buyers, in any case.
The bottom line
Let’s talk cold, hard cash.
Journalists for the Mirror reported calculations from the Resolution Foundation that this November 2017 Budget would leave poorer families £715 worse off per year, while richer families would gain £185, calling it a “no hope Budget”. They report that the Stamp Duty cut, while helpful to those who can afford to buy a home, could instead have been invested to benefit up to 40,000 individuals and families who need social housing by building new homes for people who need somewhere to rent.
As Natalie Bloomer said on politics.co.uk, “The government looked at the housing crisis and concluded that middle-class professionals who earn enough to be able to a get a mortgage on a £500,000 house are the ones who should be helped.
“Not the single mums who have been shipped out of London and dumped in damp bedsits with their kids. Not the young families who have been housed in a former office block in the middle of an industrial estate. These people, and there are thousands like them across the country, are not as important as upwardly mobile first-time buyers. Instead, they will just stay where they are, knowing that the wait for a permanent home will be a long and often fruitless one.”
The government is attempting to roll out a new welfare benefit, Universal Credit. Allegedly simpler than the myriad of benefits currently available, the roll out has been fraught with difficulties and has penalised those who need to claim it by forcing them to wait six weeks from the time of their application until they receive their first payment.
For anybody short of cash and in need of benefits, six weeks is an incredibly long time to wait (if I applied today, I would not receive a payment before the new year), and Hammond pledged a £1.5 billion package to “address concerns” around this new benefit, promising to reduce the wait to a marginally less scandalous five weeks.
A green Budget?
Hammond’s Budget has also let down those who were hoping to see more green initiatives funded and enabled by government cash.
Renewable power has not been funded, with subsidies delayed until 2025, leading Greenpeace to label this “one of the least green [Budgets] ever”. Oil and gas developers, on the other hand, were offered tax breaks; incentives that are simply not mitigated by a small increase in Vehicle Excise Duty.
Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green Party, told Left Foot Forward, “Indeed continued tax breaks for oil & gas and the lack of serious new [investment] for solar risk locking us into a fossil fuelled future at the exact moment when we need to be leaving dirty energy sources in the ground.”
What about the women?
We make up over half the population, but has this year’s Budget catered for our needs?
Unsurprisingly, that’s also a big, fat nope.
Back to the Stamp Duty abolition for first-time buyers, the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) positions this as an affront to women, who are “overrepresented in social housing” (which could have been built in significant amounts for the same amount of money) and “only make up 31% of people buying homes”.
The fact that women make up a lot of caring staff and personal carers of relatives and partners was also ignored, and the WEP criticise the Universal Credit rethink for essentially pasting over the cracks: “It is a relief that the Chancellor rowed back on some elements of the Universal Credit delivery under public pressure, including from Women’s Equality Party members. But he has made no changes to the design itself, which has been proven to affect women, black and minority ethnic people and disabled people the most, pushing them into poverty and keeping them in poverty. His claim that “work always pays” is simply not true; cuts and changes to the benefits and tax system mean black women stand to lose an average of £5,030 a year whether they are in employment or not.“
Funding for essential services
A tweet by Labour’s Andrew Fisher highlighted the dire impact of this Budget on the public services the entire country relies upon:
- “Not a penny more for mental health services
- Not a penny more for adult social care
- Not a penny more for the Police
- Not a penny more for the Fire Service
- Not a penny more for Children’s Services
- Not a penny more for schools (except maths teacher training)”
These essential services, long underfunded since the introduction of the ideological austerity cuts, are falling to pieces and the most vulnerable are the ones who will suffer the most.
It should come as no surprise that a right-wing government would fail to fund services that rich people can obtain with ease, such as schooling, healthcare and childhood support. The cut in Stamp Duty, while pitched as a great way of levelling the playing field, in fact will only benefit the minority who are in a position to buy a property anyway, and the Universal Credit ‘improvements’ will make a minor difference within a system that is letting down claimants at every turn.
Photo credit: EU2017EE/Creative Commons