The Times Leader’s opening paragraph sums up yesterday’s Budget statement really well. It says:
“We have the measure of this Government now. In only seven weeks, George Osborne has put together an emergency Budget that has restored some clarity and sanity to Britain’s finances. This was not a Budget of unavoidable cuts and inevitable tax rises. It was much better than that, and bolder. Mr Osborne has made some fundamental choices on tax and spending that were daring, but also sensitive to many of those who will feel the pain. There was not flicker of ideological fervour for cuts of which Labour has been warning; only a sense of regret and realism, coupled with an apparent desire to tell the bad news straight, rather than hiding it in footnotes”.
It is spot on.
Yesterday, the Chancellor delivered a Budget statement in recognition of the mess that Labour left this country in. The state of the UK economy was a key factor in the constituency during the Election and everyone I met on the doorstep knew that whoever formed the Government would be faced with tough decisions. Labour left behind one of the largest budget deficits in Europe. Thanks to their incompetence, we are now are borrowing one pound for every four we spend. If we fail to deal with the deficit the consequences would be severe – and it is the poorest who would suffer the most. We only have to look at Greece to see what happens to countries that don’t live within their means - more businesses going bust and higher unemployment.
The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have come together to tackle the debt crisis facing our country. The Government has taken the tough decisions that the Governor of the Bank of England and the G20 called for and that Labour ducked. But let’s be clear about some of Labour’s political rhetoric around some of these key announcements. Leaked documents following the 2008 Pre-Budget Report showed that the last Labour government were going to raise VAT to 20%. Their attack on yesterday’s announcement is therefore rather hollow. However it is important to note that it will be the wealthiest fifth of families who will pay on average over £500 a year in additional VAT, while the fifth of families on the lowest incomes will pay around a third of that. VAT will still be below the average rate in Europe.
Fairness underpins this Government’s budget. The Government will ensure that every part of society makes a contribution to deficit reduction while protecting the most vulnerable, including children and pensioners. The emergency budget sets out measures to refocus the tax and benefit framework. It also includes action to reward those who work hard and save responsibly. The Chancellor announced support for low and middle-income earners by increasing the personal allowance of £1,000. This will take 880,000 of the lowest income tax payers out of the tax and benefit 23 million taxpayers by up to £170 per year. In the South East over 3 million basic rate taxpayers will gain by up to £170 from this measure.
He also announced a triple lock on the state pension so it rises annually by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5% from April 2011 - this will benefit 11 million pensioners, 1.6 million of which live in the South East.
Much criticism has also been levied at the announcement on benefits reform. Many people I met were appalled at the abuse of the benefits system and argued for reform. Much of what was announced yesterday will focus the benefits system to help those who need it most. I will however pledge here and now that I will call for an assurance that the medical assessment will consider those who suffer a mental illness, which is often a hidden disability and requires support.
There were of course many more announcements in the Budget yesterday all of which can be found on the Treasury website. But in summary the emergency budget sets out clearly how we will pay for the bills of the past and it also starts planning for the future. It shows how the Government will carry out Britain’s unavoidable deficit reduction plan in a way that strengthens and unites the country. It will along with everyone else in the UK affect constituents of Chatham & Aylesford but it will also help put this country back on track for economic recovery. The short term pain will provide for long term gain.