Ah, young people, yes, within his annual bag of goodies, George Osborne has even found a shiny new sixpence and a pat on the head for the likes of you.
In fact, the Chancellor’s eighth budget – issued yesterday (March 16) seemed preoccupied with being down with ‘the kids’. There was a running theme throughout his hour-long speech, about ‘intergenerational fairness’ – basically the fact that pensioners got free education, full-employment, cheap houses, and gold-plated pensions, while today’s youth have, well, none of that.
After years of campaign groups banging on about the destructive effect of tuition fees and house prices, it seems like some of that rhetoric has begun to filter through to the top of Whitehall. What did that translate to, in terms of actual tangible stuff George was offering the younger generation?
A range of new schemes, some of which might just work:
The most arresting was the news that, if you are under 40, and put £4000 a year into a government-agreed Lifetime ISA, the state will give you a grand a year for every 4K, until you’re 50. There are, however, a couple of conditions: you can only withdraw that money if: a) you turn 60, b) you want to put down a deposit on a house. So it’s effectively a pension/house deposit double-bin, designed to correct for the fact that young people no longer believe in pensions or houses.
Apart from the Lifetime ISA supplementing last year’s Help To Buy ISA (which offered a chance to buy for only a 5% deposit), there were a few further concessions on housing: more availability of ‘brownfield’ (re-purposed) land to build on. And more funding and planning relaxations for a new generation of ‘garden suburbs’. Both of which should be filed alongside every other planning reform of the past six years as ‘fine but hopelessly inadequate to the task at hand’.
As he does every year, the Chancellor increased the Personal Allowance – the amount you can take home before you start paying tax – to £11450 a year. This has gone up from £4500 at the start of his watch. Unfortunately, his much-vaunted National Living Wage (presently at £7.20 but due to rise to upwards of £9 an hour), specifically doesn’t apply to the under-25s.
Earlier this week, it was announced that every school in the country is now going to have to become an Academy, and the Chancellor made an extra billion available to fund the transition. That means, effectively, that the National Curriculum no longer exists as a formula schools have to follow (Academies are exempt). And teachers will no longer have their pay set nationally, but will be free to negotiate with schools individually. That could mean more money for top quality teachers (and therefore more top-quality teachers). Or just less money for teachers overall, as the profession’s collective bargaining power is eroded. Not much for higher education, bar the extension of up to £25 000 of student loans to graduates and PhDs which, historically, have always required scholarships or private funding.
Also – as part of his trumpeted Sugar Tax (the price of a bottle of sugary drink to go up by between 18 and 24p a litre from 2018) – Osborne announced that he’d give the proceeds to financing school sports – that means half a billion quid coming down the pipelines, later school closing times and compulsory games for lots of kids who don’t already have it.