This week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the new budget for 2015. This is the first complete Conservative budget in decades, and the opportunity for the Tories to show the extent of the reforms we have been dreading since their surprising majority in May. The one who emerged a star from this was the orchestrator himself, George Osborne. The cheers that resounded through the House of Commons rivalled that of a hero returning home from war. For the Tories however, this is exactly who he is; the Conservative Chancellor returning in unrestrained force to repair the ‘damage’ caused by Labour. However, this budget has alienated many in the centre-right, and essentially welcomed those who sit comfortably on the hard right.
First, let’s go through the important changes to be implemented. The £12bn welfare cuts will now not be carried out over two years, but “smoothed” out over three. There will be a ‘tax lock’ on the main rates of National Insurance, VAT and income tax, and overall, 29 million people will be paying less tax. However, less tax being paid-in naturally gives an excuse to cut benefits. Working-age benefits will be frozen for four years (maternity pay is safe), and child benefit will now be limited to the first two children only. Nothing escaped George’s notice, with a special mention that those who have triplets or more will be exempt. Free Child care will also double from 15 hours a week to 30 hours.
The national minimum wage is set to increase to £9 by 2020 (for over 25s only). This was originally proposed by the Resolution Foundation think tank, chaired by former special advisor to Gordon Brown, Gavin Kelly. It’s a surprising ‘Labourite’ move, and not one expected from Mr Osborne.
Those who appeared to have drawn the short straw, and I write bitterly, are the youth. Specifically, the abolishing of the maintenance grant, and implementation of the word that students all over the UK have come to despise; the ‘loan’. With many of my own friends relying on the maintenance grant to get through the gruelling three years in London, I can only be disappointed with the government. When this comes into force, after a three year degree a student will find themselves in roughly £51,000 debt ([9+8]*3). Meanwhile, our friends in Scotland will carry on going to university for free. Osborne laughably praised tuition fee reforms as “a triumph of progressive reform”, which has helped to get more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university. The basis for his claims are the removal of university caps, which opens up more spaces. However, as someone who has common sense, it is much more reasonable to assume that £51,000 debt would be more of a deterrent than a cap on places.
These reforms are not “progressive”, rather they symbolise regression and endanger our national pride; the welfare state. Our soaring education prices and gradual diminution of benefits does not alleviate the feeling of dread growing in many. What further accentuates this is the feeling of being stuck. It is difficult to endure these changes without being able to look forward to the next election, hoping our country will vote differently. The victory of the SNP in May has turned a Labour victory into an unlikely prospect. The Tory majority in England secures their position in government for a long time to come, unless our voting system is changed. And for this to happen, the ones who benefit the most from this would have to be asked to change it. To conclude, the budget has cast a cloud over the future of millions of Britons. But this is what we voted for, and ultimately, this is what we’re stuck with.