Is the Spring Budget more than flowery rhetoric?

Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Spring budget last week. Does it stand up to its recent heavy criticism?

YES

Last week’s budget has received a lashing from the mainstream media after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a rise in national insurance contributions for the self-employedpweromg

an area which the Tories had categorically pledged to freeze in their 2015 manifesto. However, this is just one measure out of 28, and a relatively unimportant one at that. The media attention on this issue has detracted from many other policies which make this a great Budget which will improve vital public services such as social care and education.

“It is no coincidence that the issues we are most vocal about are the ones that are being aided by this Budget”

Hammond addressed two of the most strained areas of our healthcare system, in a much needed boost for the NHS. New money is being made available to place additional GPs in accident and emergency departments for next winter which is likely to prevent the crises we’ve seen in hospitals in recent years. Even more significantly, an extra £2bn is being made available for social care over the next three years. This will surely go some way to rectifying the problems that plague a key public service which many vulnerable citizens rely on.  In terms of education, the Chancellor declared that there would be large a large sum of extra money available for both new and existing schools as well as £300m to support PhD students in science subjects. These measures, coupled with the extra support promised to technical students, ensures that Britain’s education system has the resources available to improve its standard of schooling further.

“Hammond addressed two of the most strained areas of our healthcare system”

In any Budget, economic forecasts are going to be highly anticipated. We were the second-fastest growing economy in the G7 last year, and our growth forecast has been upgraded for 2017 from 1.4% to 2%. Additionally, borrowing is much lower than was forecast and is expected to decrease further. Finally, employment is on the rise and 650,000 more people are expected to be in work by 2021. All of this information is important, but what does it actually mean in terms of the ramifications for everyday people?

Most importantly, it means that the Government are listening to us. It is no coincidence that the issues we are most vocal about are the ones that are being aided by this Budget, such as social care and education. Moreover, the new Government have responded to public concern over the hard-line approach to austerity taken since 2010 by easing off considerably, and increasing spending in a measured but confident manner. The undeniably positive economic forecasts presented last week demonstrate that we made the right choice in 2015 in electing to trust the Government with our nation’s finances.

So, whilst the news on national insurance did break a central manifesto pledge, its portrayal in the media has somewhat overshadowed a strong and positive Budget, which has outlined plans for protecting vital parts of our healthcare and education systems whilst being able to provide the public with evidence that the current economic plan is working.

Chris Murray

NO

After a dull Autumn Statement last November, in which it seemed that Philip Hammond was an unremarkable, safe pair hands as Chancellor, one could reasonably expect another unexceptional, run-of-the-mill Tory austerity budget.

For better or worse, this was not the case. Remember the Omnishambles budget in 2012? Hammond’s effort last Wednesday lays a substantial claim to the shambolic crown. As we should expect from an uncaring Tory government, Hammond has utterly failed with this, the final Spring Budget, to address either the short-term crises our public services are facing or the long-term, structural, underlying problems that have plagued our economy since 1979. Worse still, the biggest economic challenge our country has ever faced, Brexit, was not mentioned once. Even right-wing publications, such as The Spectator, have labelled this budget a disaster. But that does not cover the level of catastrophe that has unfolded since.

“Lowering corporation tax for the billionaire-owned multi-nationals”

In an act of economic stupidity, ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ raised National Insurance contributions by 2p in the pound for all registered self-employed people earning £16,250 a year or over. These are the owners of small and medium enterprises, the entrepreneurs and innovators who fuel our economy. Most of the entire workforce are employed by small and medium enterprises.  The ethos of self-employment is the absolute backbone of our economy. And, for some reason, known only to him, our inept Chancellor has targeted them and decided to punish them for their success.

He complained in his speech that productivity was still too low, yet here he was presenting a move that would further hinder growth. He compounded this gaffe by actually lowering corporation tax for the billionaire-owned multi-nationals. This was basic economics, and our chief economic minister was getting it the wrong way round. This landed the government in a substantial political black-hole. This was absurd. We had a government committing economic suicide.

Not only that, they were doing so by punishing the hardworking ‘just about managings’ that Mrs. May claims to care so much about whilst rewarding the billionaires. And worst of all, unacceptable to the right wing press, they were breaking a solemn pledge from the 2015 Tory manifesto, stated four times in that document, that a Conservative government would not raise taxes, including National Insurance contributions. Breaking this promise was an unmissable and unforgivable gaffe.

Cue screeching howls of outrage from the press, and a barrage of opposition from the Labour frontbench. Thanks to that pressure applied by Labour’s shadow Treasury team, the Tories have been forced into a humiliating U-turn. This is an utter embarrassment for the government. There’s no way they can spin their way out of this one. It reminds of George Osborne’s final budget, when he said all schools would become academies, only for it to be quickly withdrawn after then-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said it was ‘only a proposal’.

It seems that under the Tories budgets have become a platform to pitch half-baked ideas, rather than being firm statements of long-term plans. Britain deserves better than this incompetent Tory government.

Benjamin Eckford

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