From a distance, the budget is very strange. It involves the second most powerful person in government, the chancellor of the exchequer, holding a big red suitcase up for a photo opportunity, as if this suitcase contains all the secrets to a nation’s prosperity. Sometimes you wonder if he might one day open the suitcase to reveal a rabbit. Failing that, he traditionally stands up in front of parliament and lays out some sums, before fielding questions from an enraged leader of the opposition (over to you, Corbyn).
But the UK’s annual budget has a huge impact on the year ahead. From the future of the NHS to the price of the average pint, that red suitcase holds serious sway over the country’s cashflow.
In 2017, chancellor Philip Hammond is responsible for two budgets. He outlined the first back in March, including plans to cut borrowing, increase money spent on social care, and increasing National Insurance payments for the self-employed.
Hammond unveils the autumn budget tomorrow (Wednesday November 22) after midday. And how much of a difference seven months makes: his Conservative party are in relative disarray, weaker than they were before June’s election, subject to in-fighting, high-profile resignations, sex scandals – you name it. In theory, tomorrow’s budget should attempt to win over young voters – something the Tories seriously lack. Will we finally have a budget that puts young people first? Here’s what you can expect:
What’s happening: Discounted train travel is being extended to under 30’s.
What it means: For starters, you can stop feeling like an OAP by the time you turn 26. As well as the usual 16-25 railcards (which will remain in use), a new ‘millennial railcard’ is being introduced for 26-to-30 year olds. Hammond is expected to confirm plans to save those dastardly latte-drinking, sandwich-eating, flat-renting millennials 33% on rail travel, in exchange for a yearly £30 fee. It’s due to launch in spring 2018.
Overall rail travel won’t be getting cheaper, however, unless Corbyn one day gets his way by renationalising the rail service. So you can still expect to pay more for a London-Glasgow train fare than a return flight to Barcelona. The Rail Delivery Group is due to announce a 3.6% rise in overall train fares, starting from January 2018.
100,000 people have signed Labour's petition urging the Chancellor to use tomorrow's Budget to make the funds available to install sprinklers in tower blocks.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 21, 2017
What’s happening: The government is under pressure to install sprinkler systems in social housing tower blocks. A petition started by the Daily Mirror, in response to the Grenfell tragedy, has over 100,000 signatures and comes backed by the Labour shadow cabinet. Of 4,000 tower blocks in the country, a reported 2% are installed with retro-fitting fire safety sprinklers.
What it means: Hammond and the Tories haven’t budged on the issue, and there is no sign that a budget will grant local councils funds for installing sprinkler systems. If they avoid the matter, however, they can expect stiff opposition.
What’s happening: Pubs under threat of closure are calling on Hammond’s budget to cut beer duty by a penny. In March, beer duty was increased by 2p a pint.
What it means: Again, the Conservatives have given no indication that they’ll acquiesce to these demands. However, the British Beer and Pub Association (BPA) has made strong arguments that “sky high” business rates will cause established pubs to close, especially those in London and the South East. The average pint costs £3.60, 13p more than in 2016, and the BPA argues that many punters are ditching pubs to stay at home. A cut on beer duty could potentially save these establishments, while making nights out slightly cheaper.
More money for the NHS?
What’s happening: It’s public knowledge that the NHS is under serious strain. In recent months, in an unprecedented move, head of NHS England Simon Stevens has publicly expressed doubt that health services would survive if they experienced continue austerity. Stevens is calling for extra funding in the autumn budget.
However, Hammond does not seem receptive to the idea. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show last week, he dismissed lobbying attempts, saying: “People running all kinds of services, government departments, come to see us, and they always have very large numbers that are absolutely essential otherwise Armageddon will arrive.”
What it means: If NHS England gets what it wants, an end to the health staff pay cap will see a 1% rise in wages. This may not be enough, however. According to NHS leaders, it requires a further contribution to running costs and an investment in front-line services. Hammond has warned the public not to expect any “spending sprees.”