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Budget 2015: Our panellists give their reaction

Angela O'Hagan, Women's Budget Group

In his “Budget for Britain - the comeback country”, there is still no comeback for low income families. With a further £12bn off the welfare budget and spending on tax evasion and avoidance down by £5bn, it is clear where the Chancellor’s priorities and the preferences of this government lie: not with low income families and households and not in stopping the billions of lost revenue in tax evasion. Will the £5.3bn tax on banks be used to offset the impact of falling wages, welfare caps, and increased living costs? The Personal Income Tax rate changes will have some impact on low paid women and men, but where are the measures to increase earnings? Yet again the household analysis conducted by HMT does not offer any breakdown of the impact on women, men, and different households. 

Despite this failure to comply with the legal requirement to ensure all proposals have been assessed for the equality impact, the figures to date have made clear that women have shouldered the worst of the welfare and benefit changes. Will additional levies on the banks be used to invest in and pay for the public services essential for a caring and sustainable economy? In response Ed Miliband said Britain needs a “better plan.”  Indeed. Britain needs Plan F.


Professor Prem Sikka, tax expert

The budget continues with the government’s strategy of cuts, lack of public investment and pain for ordinary people.

Currently, 5.3 million people receive less than the living wage and 700,000 people are on zero hours contracts. The UK state pension, at less than 30% of the average income, is almost the lowest in western industrialised nations. The poorest 10% of the households pay 47% of income in direct/indirect taxes, compared to 35% for the richest 10%.

The increase in personal allowances from £10,600 in 2014-5 to £10,800 in 2015-6 and inflation-busting rise in the threshold at which the higher marginal rate begins will not change any the above. Tax exemption for the first £1,000 interest on savings does not amount to redistribution and will not help those struggling to make ends meet. The government claims that it will raise £3.1bn from a clampdown on tax avoidance, but £34bn of tax revenues are going astray.

There is no relief for the ordinary person.

 

Laura Pidcock, Cllr for Cramlington Eastfield

As I listen to George Osborne set out the Tory led coalition budget my heart aches for all of the people he talks of yet knows nothing about. He does not see my residents paying the bedroom tax, or people working extremely hard using food banks on poverty pay, he knows nothing about the people I represent, yet his party gets to shape their future. It is sickening to see the laughter, the jeers and narcissism that occur in the chamber; they are part of another world shielded by their power.

What they forget as they set their budget is that far away from their corridors of privilege are people who are hungry because of poverty, people left destitute by their sanctions, people consumed by anxiety. Cramlington (Northumberland) seems so far away from Westminster.

Our Council has been forced to cut 44 million from its budget in the next two years on top of 160 million from 2009. Tell me how you can continue to deliver essential services to the people with such drastic cuts? If we allow spending cuts of this magnitude to continue, local authorities will be no more, each time this government sets a budget we are one more step along the path of Local Authority bankruptcy.  We don’t need talk of a “Northern Powerhouse;” we need change, desperately!

 

Caroline Molloy, NHS openDemocracy

In a highly political pre-election Budget speech, Chancellor George Osborne was pretty quiet about the NHS - no doubt following Tory spin doctor Lynton Crosby’s advice. Ed Miliband called it 'the secret plan to cut the NHS that dare not speak its name'.

The NHS is struggling, saddled with a hugely costly market infrastucture and PFI debts, and old people spending hours in A&E and on hospital trolleys. Yes, there were a few significant announcements of extra funding - but unfortunately, mostly likely to go not to the NHS, but rather to the growing number of companies and social enterprises feeding off it.

Most worrying for the NHS is what Osborne didn’t say. He didn’t promise to get the private companies leeching money from the NHS and causing what Ed Miliband today rightly calls a 'gaping hole' in its budget, of course. He didn’t promise to end the accounting trick attempting to massage borrowing and spending figures through the use of the Private Finance Initiative which yesterday drove the largest health trust in the country, Barts, into ‘special measures’.

 

David Powell, Senior Economics Campaigner at Friends of the Earth

As for Ed Balls’s quip that the Chancellor spent more time talking about Agincourt than the NHS, see also climate change – the hugest of battles faced by this generation, and of which there was no mention from Mr Osborne.

Perhaps we should count our blessings. The Chancellor’s mutterings against solar and wind has been shelved of late, probably primarily because the costs of renewables have tumbled so irresistibly. And note the complete absence of fracking from Mr Osborne’s speech: always its staunchest advocate, even the Chancellor can’t ignore the increasing unpopularity of shale gas, including in Tory heartlands.

But so much for small mercies. One of the Chancellor’s big hurrahs was the lavishing of £1.3 billion of tax cuts on the North Sea oil and gas industry, to help wring ‘every drop’ from UK waters. It’s a visceral contrast with the rising power of the divestment movement and the warnings from the Bank of England about the macroeconomic risks of our addiction to dirty energy. Yet with most of the world’s fossil fuels needing to stay in the ground, the Chancellor’s additional £20 million to support exploring for more sticks in the craw most of all.

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