Theresa May recently announced the end of austerity, however in spite of the give-aways there is little cheer in the Chancellor’s budget for many across North East Bedfordshire.
The raising of the income tax thresholds will mean that those on the highest incomes in the county will gain far more than low and middle income earners, who have suffered the most in the years of the government’s austerity policies. While the improvements to Universal Credit are welcomed, the ongoing working age benefits freeze and welfare cuts yet to come in the coming years will result in more pain for lower and middle income families.
As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation stated, the income tax cuts, which will cost the government £2.7 billion, will not reduce poverty at all. A far more progressive policy, and estimated to cost the same as the tax cut give-away, would be to raise the Universal Credit Work Allowance by a further £1,500. This would enable thousands of adults and children to escape poverty. There was little good news in the budget for most self-employed people as the proposed abolition of the Class 2 National Insurance Contributions has been cancelled and the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will create further difficulties during leaner months.
Firefighters and the Police continue to feel the effects of Conservative austerity. Response times to fires in Bedfordshire have risen by 60 seconds since 2012 while the number of firefighters has fallen by 63 in the same time. Bedfordshire police are currently 300 officers short of establishment. There was no good news for either in the budget and morale is at rock bottom in our underfunded and overstretched emergency services so vital to our safety and security. It’s time to protect the protectors.
While a substantial amount of money has been allocated to spending on the UK’s road network there was very little in the budget to encourage a change to environmentally friendlier modes of travel such as walking and cycling. Bedfordshire is poorly served by a fragmented cycle network which won’t be improved by this budget, which failed to mention climate change at all. Bus services continue to be cut across Bedfordshire with council subsidies for public transport slashed.
Reductions in government funding has resulted in Central Bedfordshire Council planning cuts of £45 million to their budget over the next four years, this will inevitably have a detrimental effect on council services.
The £400 million one off bonus to the Education budget to “go and buy a few little extras” is an insult to parents, teachers and children who have suffered as a result of budget cuts and pay freezes. The Digital Tax sounds good until you realise it won’t happen until April 2020 as does the Plastic Packaging tax until looking into the details it becomes apparent that it won’t apply until April 2022. The budget also failed the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Age Inequality) women born in the 1950’s who have been denied pension justice.
The increase in the National Living Wage rates are welcome, however it remains that there are significantly different rates of pay for young people between 18 and 25 and the budget has done nothing to address this. Young people in Bedfordshire doing exactly the same work as older people should get the same rate of pay. We wouldn’t accept different rates of pay based on gender or race, why on earth should we accept it based on age.
The Chancellor had an opportunity to address the ‘burning injustices’ brought about by eight years of austerity. Instead, rather than reducing inequality, he has decided to cut taxes that benefit the richest far more than the ‘just about managing’ that Theresa May promised to prioritise over the privileged few. North East Bedfordshire deserves far better.