Ahead of this week’s budget announcement, our associate director Aaron Bass outlined two possible scenarios: it was either going to be full of surprises or amount to “kicking the can down the road” until spring to at what is a sensitive time for the UK economy.
We can now say that the latter approach prevailed – at least as it relates to comprehensive economic reform. Many will be more interested in what the Chancellor decided not to pursue at this time, such as any new tax, and anxious to predict whether plans have been suspended or delayed.
That said, Chancellor Rishi Sunak did a good job of compensating for this through peppering the budget with a multitude of spending commitments aimed at giving as many of us as possible something to celebrate. The message that austerity is over is clear.
Here is a non-exhaustive summary of the Chancellor’s pledges:
- Total departmental spending over the current Parliament will increase by £150bn, growing by 3.8% a year in real terms;
- Spending on healthcare will increase by £44bn to over £177bn by the end of this Parliament;
- £4.8bn for local government over the next three years for social care;
- New 50% business rates discount for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, including pubs, music venues, cinemas, restaurants, hotels, theatres, and gyms;
- National living wage to increase next year by 6.6% to £9.50 an hour. For a full-time worker, that’s a pay rise worth over £1,000;
- £2.2bn for courts, prisons and probation services, including £500m to reduce the backlog in courts;
- £640m a year to help those who are rough sleepers and homeless;
- An 8% cut in the universal credit taper, which reduces financial support as people work more hours;
- £5bn to remove unsafe cladding from the highest risk buildings, partly funded by a residential property developers’ tax, which will be levied on developers with profits over £25m at a rate of 4%;
- £46bn investment in railways, with an integrated rail plan to be published soon;
- 30,000 new school places for children with special needs and disabilities;
- An overhaul of alcohol duty, cutting the number of main duty rates from 15 to six – the stronger the drink, the higher the rate;
- £850m to protect museums, galleries, libraries, and “local culture”.
The announcements were received favourably by the electorate overall, with 53% approving of it according to Savanta ComRes. YouGov, however, presented more uncertain figures showing that while twice as many support the budget measures than do not, more than half of those asked say that they do not have a view. All in all, this will likely offer the Government some respite from the rising tide of negative developments, such as rising inflation, increased energy costs and supply chain disruption that have been slowly eating away at the country’s optimism in recent months.
There are potential pitfalls of tying the budget to a rosy image of the state of the country that largely reflects the public sentiment and needs seen throughout the summer of 2021, rather than what can be expected as we head into an economically difficult winter. It will not take much for short-term hardships and grievances, or delayed and unpopular policy announcements to overshadow it.
However, for now, slow and steady prevails.
Gabriel Hedengren is an account manager at The PR Office.