So, now that the commentators have pored over the fine print and had their say, where does the budget leave a corner of England that still experiences some of the highest levels of deprivation in the land?
We have said, before, during and since the general election, loud and clear, that UK limited was broke. Just how broke has, though, only become clear since the new Treasury team has got their hands on the books and it`s clear that when the last Chief Secretary to the Treasury left a note for his successor saying “there`s no money” he really meant it. The last administration had, in its dying weeks, gone on a spending spree that would have left Old Mother Hubbard in tears! Even after the cancellation of some rash capital projects the Chancellor has had very little room to manoeuvre in order to prevent the UK from facing a Greece-Minus economy.
Many of the letters that we receive from constituents in East Kent stress, rightly, the importance of education, police on the streets, healthcare and the armed forces. Put brutally, had we continued down the previous path, borrowing one pound for every four spent and increasing the national debt by £3 billion every week, then within five years we would have been spending £70 billion each year in debt interest alone – more than the entire cost of educating our children, policing our streets or defending our country!
Insofar as is practicably possible George Osborne`s budget is fair. The wealthiest 20% of households will, rightly, end up paying about three times more in VAT, for example, than those 20% on the lowest incomes. (That is because the cost of items bearing VAT impacts more heavily upon those buying goods of choice rather than essentials such as non-processed food and children`s clothing).
Nobody welcomes increases in taxes or reductions in benefits but it has to be right that those on the lowest incomes – which includes too many of those that we represent – should be taken out of the income tax bracket altogether, that the basic state pensions should once again be triple-lock indexed linked and that those households with what many would consider to be higher incomes do not receive tax credits and allowances that may contribute towards the cost of annual holidays but do not make the difference between bei g able to manage to pay the rent and household bills and being unable to afford to eat or to heat the home.
In spite of the tight circumstances the budget will take about 880,000 low-income people out of the tax bracket and will benefit about 23 million taxpayers by a modest £170 per year.
Locally, the removal of tax increases in holiday letting properties will help to protect a vital and fragile part of our tourism industry.
At the other end of the scale, increases in capital gains tax, imposed not upon basic rate taxpayers and small businesses but upon those who have hitherto played the system, will help to reduce the deficit and to pay for other necessary measures.
There is no doubt that pay-freezes and reductions in benefits will swell MPs postbags but I have represented enough constituents at Disabilty Tribunal hearings, for instance, to know that while many, who we have to protect, have genuine needs there are others who give widespread public offence by claiming benefits to which they are patently not entitled. It is past time that abuse came to an end.
I want to see greater thought given to help for job creating small businesses and I do not believe that it is right that “London and the South East”, embracing, as it does, areas of need such as East Kent, should be excluded in totality as “prosperous” from government concessions.
Overall though, while we may all be going to share in the financial pain that has been bequeathed to us we can at least see that there is now a two-party government that seriously intends to clean up the mess that the third major party has left behind as it walked out of the door of Number Ten. And that has to give cause for hope and some optimism.