The economy’s doing better than folk expected
To start on a high note, it turns out the UK is doing pretty well. In fact, in 2016, our economy grew faster than the US, Japan and France, and was the second-fastest-growing of all the G7 group of countries (Germany was first, but then we’re used to that with the football).
Of course, this boost will be better for some people than others, but unemployment’s at an 11-year low and ‘real’ wages (i.e. the value of what we can afford to buy rather than the amount of money we earn) are continuing to rise. Feeling better-off yet?
There’s a fair whack more on Minimum Wage
More positive stuff? OK, so we already kinda knew this was going to happen (Mr Hammond first announced it in his autumn statement last November), but he’s now confirmed it in the budget. What does it mean wallet-wise? Well, if you’re 25 or over and earning current National Living Wage, your hourly rate will go up from £7.20 to £7.50. Added up, it means someone working 37.5 hours a week who earned £14,040 last year will earn £14,625 next year. That’s a pretty handy £585, folks.
Some things to take away about drinks and tobacco
While this budget didn’t talk about increases to alcohol duties, there were some already planned in line with inflation. So, among other rises, there’s 36p more on a bottle of whisky, 10p on a bottle of wine and, from Monday the 13th of March, 2p more on a pint of beer. Certainly not news that will result in many cheers.
For tobacco, there’ll be 2% added over and above the Retail Price Index inflation rate, meaning a pack of 20 cigarettes will cost about 35p more (thinking about quitting, anyone?). And when it comes to the notorious ‘sugar tax’, well – from April 2018 – any drink with 5g of sugar per 100ml will be taxed at 18p a litre, and 24p if there’s more than 8g in a litre.
A few top-ups for tech
There’s good news for geeks, with £270 million set aside to develop the UK’s ‘disruptive technologies’ like robotics, biotech and driverless vehicles (yep, cars with no drivers may be closer than we think!).
4G has every right to be nervous too, with £16 million being allocated to its big brother 5G (it’s expected to be deployed across the board in 2020) and a further £200 million allocated to ‘full-fibre’ broadband projects. The government’s plan is to support better coverage across our road and rail networks and encourage more companies to set up shop here in the UK (form an orderly queue please, folks).
No thaw for the benefits freeze
As all the finance types expected, working-age benefits will stay at the same amount again this year, as part of the four-year freeze (they’re capped till 2019). The freeze applies to Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, some types of Housing Benefit, and Child Benefit. What it doesn’t affect are state pensions, Maternity Pay and disability benefits.
Some good results for education
We’re already a pretty smart bunch here in Britain, but it’s an A+ for academic research in England (like health, education is devolved in Scotland and Wales) with £300 million to support 1,000 new PhD places in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects.
For those who are a bit too small for a PhD yet, the announcement of free school transport may be welcome news. It’s for kids who’re already entitled to free school meals, so many low-income families might be very glad to hear it.
If you’d like to know a bit more about how the budget might affect you depending on your age and family situation, this article from the Guardian is a fun and handy thing. Until next time, budget fans!
All information correct as of 30th March 2017.
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