Voices Grassroots

Paul Abbott – A Robin Hood Budget

Paul Abbott

This was a Robin Hood Budget, rewarding work and helping people on modest incomes the most. Ultimately it was a Budget that made me proud to be a Conservative. The Chancellor has roundly delivered – thank God! – on the promise of our general election campaign: a stronger and more competitive economy, a plan for the future, and a better life for you and your family.

I was encouraged to see aggressively lower taxes for British business and the reductions in income tax, but balanced with help for the poorest in society: a National Living Wage; a freeze in fuel duty; investment in our Northern cities and roads; and compassionate policies to help our NHS and pensioners who are struggling. The Chancellor’s joke about “planes over West London” was well-judged too: we do need to crack on expanding airport capacity.

The tax credit changes will need careful implementation. But, overall, I’m delighted. The longer that George Osborne continues as Chancellor, the more assured and confident he becomes – fighting for a Conservative Party that is on the side of everyone, rather than just a few. A Budget like this will be fuel in the tank of our economy, and is a credit to the whole Treasury and Downing Street team. More please!

Paul Abbott is Chief Executive of Conservative Way Forward.

Louise Burfitt-Dons – Osborne delivered real fairness

BURFITT DONS Louise black and white

In the run up to the General Election, Labour and the Lib Dems banged on about the need for a “fairer” society – the argument being that redistribution from the haves to the have-nots was a no-brainer, and a risk free strategy to grab the moral high ground. Conveniently forgotten was the other side of the equation, namely, that those who pay should also be treated fairly. That was why I am delighted to see the Chancellor remind the public of that fact in his Summer Budget.

I welcome the changes to Inheritance Tax, although I would like to see it dumped completely. I saw what happened in Australia when I lived there. Queensland got rid of it in 1977 and it eventually resulted in the migration of 10,000 people a month from the Southern states, citing climate and death duties as the reason. It’s a basic human urge to want to leave a legacy to help your children, so raising the threshold on IHT to £1 million for a couple comes across as fair and reasonable. Buying and keeping a family home has never been easy for most people, and we rightly feel good that our efforts can be passed on in large measure to those we love the most.

It’s also somewhat Alice in Wonderland for a taxpayer on £20,000 a year to see some of their cash being handed to someone living on the state getting £25,000. So the lowering of the Cap on Benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere is another good move towards fairness.

And what a big finish! George Osborne’s new Living Wage, compulsory from next April, and set initially at £7.20 will surely help those getting off the bottom of the ladder.

Fairness should always cut both ways.

Louise Burfitt-Dons was the Conservative candidate for Nottingham North, and writes the Right Wing Feminist blog.

Dr Simon Clarke – Student fees that make sense

CLARKE, Dr Simon

“Conservatives are against unfair subsidies wherever we find them,” said George Osborne. Amen to that. It’s always struck me as unfair, when students pay their own way through University, that some are effectively in receipt of a subsidy. While they all borrow to fund their tuition fees, those whose family’s annual income is less than £42,600 can obtain a maintenance grant to fund their living costs, of up to £3,364 per annum. As of this Budget, the maintenance grant is no more.

Okay, I’m being selective; Osborne’s remark was from a different part of the speech.  But if education-driven social mobility is to mean anything, it should be remembered that students are independent adults. They are responsible for choosing their course of study and the career path they take after graduation. If they make it into a high-earning job after University, why should they receive what is, in effect, a subsidy on their salary, merely by dint of an impecunious background? Why, for example, should a Doctor from a middle-class family repay more than one from a poorer family, when they were contemporaries at the same medical school and are in receipt of the same pay?

You may think that students from wealthier (but not rich) households should be funded by their parents. But many are not, and end up working a great deal during term time; there is no compulsion for parents with higher incomes to support their offspring at University. We don’t extend the same logic to any other event in a young adult’s life that requires a considerable amount of money, such as buying your first home. Some people receive family assistance, others don’t.

When student fees were introduced, we were told that they would stop students from poorer backgrounds applying to University. This hasn’t happened. Ability, ambition and confidence instilled in school are much greater drivers of someone’s future than a grant.

Dr Simon Clarke is an Associate Professor at the University of Reading and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is also a Didcot Town Councillor.

Natalie Elphicke – A Budget for housing growth


A “Growth Nation” budget rather than a “One Nation” budget – very much this Chancellor’s own clever stamp of Conservatism.

My personal highlight was the reduction of social rents for the least well off. At Million Homes, we have been campaigning to cut excess rents paid by social rent households. These have been rising above inflation for years. So a 1 per cent rent reduction, instead of further rent rises, is welcome. This will support poorer households moving into work.

Another significant policy change in social housing is making tenants pay full rent if they can afford to do so. This is very much in tune with the fairness agenda since the Chancellor first took office. However, the proposed level for that – at £30,000 outside London and £40,000 inside London – seems arbitrary. Pegging it to the higher tax threshold, £43,000 rising now to £50,000, may be better.

The market rent for social tenants is likely to promote the greater take up of home ownership through social Right to Buy. It will also make financing of new developments easier. Housing subsidy support will be targeted at those who need it most.

Some changes to buy-to-let had been expected. The scale and shape of the change – restricting mortgage interest deductions to basic rate and phasing in over 4 years – is cleverly designed to start to shape a more balanced and fairer housing market, without causing any finance market shocks.

All in all, perhaps more of a technical housing budget than a flamboyant one. And that is good news for housing. Now is the time for building, working and growing – this Growth Nation budget does just that.

Natalie Elphicke is a non-executive director of a leading building society, as well as co-founder and Chairman of Million Homes, Million Lives.

Mark Fox – The death of Brown’s legacy

FOX MarkToday George Osborne delivered a once in a generation Budget. The Chancellor revolutionised not only the size but also the function of the state. In doing so he performed the last rites on Gordon Brown’s legacy. The Budget was much more than an exercise in economic management – it is a tangible manifestation of George Osborne’s political philosophy and the direction in which his political compass is pointing.

Whatever view you may take of it, no-one can deny its significance.

The business services sector is a major contributor to the UK economy, employing around 10 per cent of the workforce and contributing nearly 10 per cent in GVA. The industry is a major provider of apprenticeships and skills training, and we look forward to working with the Chancellor on the implementation of his apprenticeships agenda. We welcome the new National Living Wage. It is compulsory and will provide necessary clarity and consistency.

In our Budget submission we asked the Chancellor to deliver a clear strategy for sustainable growth and a fiscal framework in which enterprise can flourish. This he has done.

It is right to put improving the country’s lamentable productivity performance front and centre. This is not an abstract thing but something that will benefit everyone through rising wages.

There have been many changes in tax policy over the past few years and it is good to see some simplification.

But there is more still to be done. We are wholly behind the idea of a Northern Powerhouse. The industry is already evenly distributed across the UK. We need a clear framework in place, outlining where major fiscal decisions are to be made. And we need more certainty on infrastructure planning. If projects dry up so does the construction skills base and this is difficult to recover, so we do need clear plans for a consistent stream of work.

Overall, business will welcome this Budget as a further step in strengthening the UK’s economic recovery.

Mark Fox is Chief Executive of the Business Services Association and a former Parliamentary candidate. 

John Glen MP – The Chancellor is making work pay


Set against an ominous Greek backdrop, the Chancellor was right to stress that financial discipline remains the overriding priority in this Parliament, but with a number of welcome proposals to tackle low pay and productivity.

Pledging to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2 per cent of our GDP on defence for the rest of the decade is something I have argued to be essential in the face of ever changing security threats. The introduction of a joint security fund rightly recognises these threats are complex and require input from multiple departments across Whitehall.

As the economy recovers, the Chancellor is right to look to address the tax credits “merry go round,” and pressure firms to do more to raise wages. As early as 2005, more than a quarter of families receiving tax credits paid more than they got back to the Treasury coffers in tax.

This is the very essence of the unnecessary public service duplication that we have pledged to tackle. The right approach is not to endlessly inflate a Tax Credit budget that had already ballooned to £30 billion, but instead to reduce the burden of tax on low-income households and incentivise employers to pass on the proceeds of growth.

There was also an intellectual flaw from the start in the state paying subsidies to try and compensate for low productivity and poor output. The introduction of a new National Living Wage deals with this and will turbocharge wages for two and a half million of the lowest paid in our society.

The main criticism of a living wage has always been the potential impact on the smallest firms – which is significantly offset by both the corporation tax cut and the 50 per cent increase in the Employment Allowance, so companies can employ four full-time staff on the new wage and pay no National Insurance at all.

This Budget was an opportunity for us to champion the principle that it should always pay to be in work. The Chancellor has seized this and we now need to drive the message home that the Conservatives are the true party of working people.

John Glen is the Member of Parliament for Salisbury.

David Skelton – A statement for One Nation


The announcement of a National Living Wage is to be hugely welcomed, and means that this Budget might be regarded as historically important. The UK needs to move from a low wage economy, with around a third of people being low-paid, to a high wage, high productivity economy. This Budget is a major step to making that happen and shows that the Conservatives are passionate about making work pay and ensuring that hard work is rewarded.

The introduction of a National Living Wage is a determined step to ensure that the economy is one that genuinely works for everybody, creating a genuinely popular capitalism, which removes people from the treadmill of low pay. Taken in tandem with important measures to tackle the UK’s historic productivity challenge, it means that today’s Budget could be crucial in transforming the British economy for the better.

The National Living Wage will allow more people to be financially independent of the state, something that all Conservatives should support. It shifts the burden from the state and the taxpayer to profitable big employers, and ends the taxpayer subsidy to low-paying employers.

Some on the marginal libertarian right might grumble at the move, but it will make working people better off and genuinely make work pay. 8 out of 10 working households will be better-off as a result of this Budget, and the employment impact will be minimal. OBR estimates suggest the employment impact of the National Living Wage will be around 60,000 jobs, set against the context of job growth of around 1.1 million jobs and a target to create 2 million new jobs in this Parliament.

This is an important Budget that makes tough decisions, benefits working people and genuinely makes work pay. A strong economy means that working people will get a pay rise and business will benefit from corporation tax cuts. The Budget embodies One Nation and it should be strongly and enthusiastically welcomed.

David Skelton is director of Renewal.

Zehra Zaidi – Labour’s thunder, truly stolen

ZAIDI ZehraPost-election, we heard much about the Conservatives being the workers party – but was compassionate Conservatism as much alive as blue collar Conservatism? The loud cheer from IDS when Osborne pulled a compulsory National Living Wage out of the hat would signal yes, very much.

The National Living Wage of £9 an hour by 2020, with the Low Pay Commission to advise on the pace of increase, will grab all the headlines. However, it is important to note that the burden for supporting higher pay shifts instead to business. Key, therefore, was a move on Employment Allowance to offset the costs for small firms.

The welfare changes to tax credits (£3.4 billion of cuts), social rents (cut by 1 per cent) and a benefits freeze for five years (£4 billion by 2020), will cut the welfare bill by £9 billion by 2019-20 – the detail of which will be included in a Welfare Reform Bill published tomorrow. The key will be how much the Living Wage and higher tax threshold to £11,000 will offset the squeeze on Tax Credits. The message the Conservatives need to ram home is that they are trying to create a better future for all for the long term, which requires some very tough choices to bring the deficit down, whilst protecting the elderly, disabled and most vulnerable.

Another area I suspect will be contested fiercely by the left is the effect of the Budget on young people, with a new obligation to earn or learn, no housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds and student maintenance grants replaced by loans. This Budget focuses heavily on employment as being the best way out of poverty, and seeing education and training as an investment towards more secure and higher earnings.

Osborne has not only embedded One Nation Conservatism into his Budget, but also stole Labour’s thunder on policies it can only now agree with – from the Living Wage to a bank profit surcharge, an apprenticeship levy and tackling non-dom status. Plaudits don’t come much better than Harriet Harman conceding that Budget 2015 was designed to get Osborne and the Conservatives into No.10 in 2020. A battle line has been drawn against the new Labour leader. Osborne is certainly prepared.

Zehra Zaidi is a charity campaigner and activist, and was the Conservative candidate for Makerfield.

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