Chancellor George Osborne has delivered the first Budget by a wholly Conservative government in almost 20 years. The March 2015 Budget provided some clues as to possible new measures and of course, the Conservative election manifesto contained a wide range of commitments to be introduced during the course of the current parliament.
The Chancellor said that this is a Budget for working families in a ‘one-nation society’. In ‘a big Budget for a country with big ambitions’, he focused on how the government will continue with its deficit-reduction plans, whilst giving the promised support to ‘hard-working families’. He said that whilst the deficit would be cut at the same pace as under the previous government, it would be a bold budget containing bold new measures.
As predicted, savings in welfare spending of around £12bn, and increases in revenue from tax avoidance and evasion to yield around £5bn made an early couple of headlines in the Chancellor’s speech.
The welfare savings are to be funded by:
– ensuring those aged 18 to 21 who receive Universal Credit apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, gain work-based skills, or go on a work placement 6 months after the start of their claim;
– subjecting benefit payments to a regional cap (£23,000 per year in London and £20,000 in other areas – cut from £26,000 a year);
– limiting child tax credits to two children for new claimants;
– working-age benefits, including tax credits and Local Housing Allowance, will be frozen for 4 years from 2016-17 and
– reducing rents for social housing by 1% a year for 4 years. Tenants on higher incomes (over £40,000 in London and over £30,000 outside London) will be required to pay market rate, or near market rate, rents.
With regards to tax avoidance and evasion, HMRC is to be given significant extra investment – some £60m between now and 2020 – for increased work on tackling evasion and non-compliance. It will be interesting to see how and where this money will be spent.
The Conservative manifesto pledged to introduce a new law within the first one hundred days of a Conservative government to prevent any rises in income tax, VAT or national insurance in the next parliament and it seems that this promise is now to be delivered. Broadly, a five-year ‘tax lock’ will guarantee no increases in income tax rates; no increases in VAT, nor an extension of its scope; and no increase in national insurance, nor an increase in its ceiling above the higher rate threshold. However, the Chancellor could still move the goalposts – there will still be plenty of scope to raise more revenue without increasing tax rates by widening the definitions of what is taxed, or by withdrawing tax reliefs.
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