So not really an autumn statement for the “just about managing”

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The Chancellor’s autumn statement hasn’t exactly met with universal praise from civil society. While sections of the business community will welcome cuts in corporation tax, and higher earners will welcome the raising of the higher rate personal tax threshold, there was plenty of measured criticism from charities, social enterprises and trade unions.

Neil Cleeveley, Chief Executive of NAVCA said the Chancellor could have taken a more radical approach:

“The Chancellor has acted in a disappointingly traditional manner. I would argue for a more radical approach to match these very changed times. There is a growing consensus that inequality not only hurts people and communities but hampers long-term economic performance. As a society we need a debate about how we want wealth and power distributed.”

In a similar vein, Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK said:

“The Chancellor talked of a ‘big-ticket’ innovation and infrastructure fund, but where was the inclusive economy Theresa May promised? Pressure on councils and the NHS is going to be high, and with changes to benefits and public services, increasing numbers are going to feel their living standards squeezed and quality of life reduced.”

Meanwhile, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress said,

“Today’s OBR forecast shows that the average annual wage will be £1,000 lower in 2020 than predicted at the Budget. And this is on top of wages still having not recovered to their 2007 levels. This is yet another blow to ordinary working people’s standard of living. And far from being focussed on ‘just about managing’ families, this shows up the government’s plans as inadequate.

“And the partial restoration of major cuts to Universal Credit isn’t anywhere near the help ‘just about managing’ families need. These are political choices. The Chancellor has chosen tax cuts for corporations and the better-off, rather than putting money in the pockets of ordinary working people.”

The Chancellor’s statement was also attacked for its lack of green initiatives. Friends of the Earth senior campaigner Liz Hutchins said:

“The Chancellor is pootling along in the slow lane, when the UK needs to be on the fast track to a low-carbon economy.

“With Donald Trump appointing climate deniers and oil lobbyists to his transition team, this is a huge missed opportunity for the UK to show the global leadership and urgency needed to protect our planet.”

On a more positive note, the decision to abolish agent fees for tenants in the private rented sector seems to be a good move. Writing in the Huffington Post, Shelter’s Steve Akehurst said:

“So we should be clear: ending fees is unequivocally a good thing for private renters on low and middle incomes. Overnight, it will save many on low incomes hundreds of pounds a year, massively reducing the cost of moving home. It’s one of the most significant positive government interventions in the housing market for the ‘Just About Managing’ group in a long time.”

Shelter were more cautious about extra money to build affordable housing. Whilst welcoming the extra spending, Akehurst said that “a bit more will be needed if the government really wants to help the hardest hit ‘just about managing’ group in high cost areas of the country.”

But in this brief look at reaction to the autumn statement, I’m giving the final word to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Their chief economist, Ahswin Kumar said:

“Many families will gain by modest amounts of a few pounds a week from the reduction in the Universal Credit taper rate and the rise in the income tax personal allowance.  However these gains will be dwarfed by much bigger cuts to work allowances imposed by George Osborne in April this year.  A couple with two children each earning £25,000 a year will see a benefit of £588 a year from the income tax and universal credit taper changes, but will lose £1,308 from the benefit freeze and the cut in Universal Credit work allowances.

“The majority of the benefit from the income tax changes will go to better-off families, and the Treasury’s own documents say that it will cost £2 billion in 2017/18.  Spent otherwise, these funds could have made a significant difference to families who are just about managing.”

So overall, a budget that has not delivered a great deal. I don’t think this should come as any surprise. When Theresa May spoke to the “just about managing” outside number 10 a few months ago (The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.) she wasn’t that convincing.

This autumn statement from her Chancellor confirms that I was right to be cynical.

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