Thursday, December 05, 2013

Autumn Statement - 5 quick thoughts from me

I don't pretend to be an economist so don't expect any commentary on debts or deficits from me. I want to take a very quick look at some of the practical aspects of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.

I'm not taking any marriage tax break

If Liberal Democrats hadn't allowed the Tories their awful marriage tax break, we'd have been breaking the Coalition Agreement in the same way as the Tories did over Lords Reform. I would have preferred we hadn't agreed to it in the first place. We won't be voting for it, at least but that's no small comfort to seeing £700 million that could be used so much more effectively (see Don't Judge my Family's wonderful Advent calendar) being frittered away as a sop to the Tory right.

My husband and I could benefit from this, but we have decided that we won't because it's insulting and discriminatory.

Priority housing status for workers is meaningless if there are no houses

So, if you need to move to take a job and you live in social housing, you'll get priority on the lists. We'll leave to the side the fact that you may be jumping the queue ahead of people who have been waiting for years for a house that meets their needs. Priority status means nothing though if there isn't enough social housing. Councils already can't house the people with high priority. How on earth does Osborne expect them to be able to house workers?

I'll grant you that the Coalition has made a start on ensuring more affordable housing is being built, and Liberal Democrats have policy that would result in 25,000 more council houses being built in England. This is a drop in the ocean to what's required. It's about time all parties stopped being so timid and worked together to make sure that in 21st century Britain everyone has access to a decent home. That surely isn't too much to ask.

Scotland gains - but will the SNP government put its new money where its mouth is?

Scotland is to get an extra £308 million over the next two years. The SNP Government could choose to spend it on the childcare it says is so critical but they would only be able to do after independence. Well, they have the power to do it already. It's over to them. Alistair Carmichael made that pretty clear that the choice was theirs:
The Scottish Government can now plan to spend this money in line with its priorities.  The rest of the UK is already ahead of Scotland in providing childcare support, free school meals and, with this Autumn Statement, support for the high street too so that the shops we value and rely on get a little money back to help them succeed.
 The Scottish Government has been given the money to do these things too.  They can match the help that families and businesses are getting in other parts of the UK. They could crack on with childcare package they announced last week, but are making conditional on a yes vote to independence.  They can do these things, or they can spend the money elsewhere.  These are the choices that they must make.
Let's just say I'm not going to be holding my breath.

More measures to help young people into work

Employers' National Insurance Contributions will be abolished for under 21s. This is a good thing. I'd have liked to have seen it accompanied, though, by equalisation of the national minimum wage. Often, under 21s do exactly the same work as those over 21, yet their is a £2.59 per hour difference in what they are paid. But, of course, these large profitable companies that employ young people on the minimum wage couldn't possibly afford that, could they?

And while we're on young people, Osborne did make a lot of the fact that the applications for university from people from poorer backgrounds were at highest level. This issue is painful for us, and rightly so, but the assertions from Labour that no poor young person would ever be able to go to university again were clearly nonsense.

Why do MPs have to behave like brats?

If you aren't a political anorak, chances are the only time you'll see the House of Commons on tv is for the big set-piece occasions like Prime Minister's Questions, the Budget and the Autumn Statement. You are therefore likely to come away with the idea that MPs are a bunch of rude, uncouth, loud, unpleasant brats who can't just sit nicely and listen to what is being said. As Nick Robinson said on the Daily Politics, it's done on purpose to put the speaker off, to make them look all red-faced and flustered. Ed Balls was dying on his backside perfectly well without the rabble from the braying Tories.

Seriously, though, people think that politicians are like that all the time when actually, when you take them out of that bear pit, most of them are decent human beings who you could happily have a pint with. It's not good for politics when they behave like that. The economy isn't just about numbers and debts and deficits. What they are discussing has a direct effect on people's lives in many ways every single day, whether it's the amount of pay they take home, or how much it costs them to fill their car or heat their homes. The very least they could do is take it seriously, especially when so many people are really struggling. MPs should think about this the next time they descend into juvenile banter.
Again, I won't be holding my breath.

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