I sat down at dinner time, Wednesday, with some ham sandwiches and a bag of crisps for the much-anticipated Autumn Statement with Hardened Hammond. As time went on, I gradually noticed a bittersweet taste. At first I thought “this is some funny ham” until it hit me – this bittersweet wasn’t coming from my lunch, it was originating from the Commons chamber.
All credit to Hammond, he kept it quite watertight in terms of not leaving much room for criticism from the opposition benches – because let’s face it, if the Tories were at the other side of the chamber, I’d have been crying into my bag of crisps with announcements of Labour unlimited borrowing, unlimited spending, a soaring deficit, an over-inflated welfare state and an eye-watering national debt. However, there were some bits of the Chancellor’s plans I totally agree with, some parts I disagree with and some bits I think he’s missed out. As a Tory member, myself, it was a bittersweet kind of Autumn Statement.
I’ll try to bounce through the points so let’s start off with the positives. My favourite announcement was that the personal allowance is to be raised to £11,500 at the start of the next tax year and again to £12,500 by the end of the current parliament. A big tick in my box as I believe as many people on minimum wage should be taken out of income tax as possible, giving the lowest of earners that bit extra in their pocket at the end of the month.
Again, on income tax, another cracker was that the higher-rate threshold will rise to £45,000 in April and to £50,000 by the end of the current parliament. Oh, how the socialists started screeching the naïve ‘tax cuts for the wealthy’ line, completely oblivious to the fact that the middle class were being caught up paying the higher rate of tax (of which it wasn’t designed for). A good move to start correcting that problem.
The next positive that particularly got me through the crusts on my sarnies was the corporation tax cut pledge from 20% to 17%. Again, another narrow-minded socialist hate but it will help businesses big and small expand and flourish – ones like my Dad’s company, so it was a boost close to home.
Hammond was also very reassuring on housing, putting forward a £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund to help provide 100,000 new homes in high-demand areas and £1.4bn to deliver 40,000 affordable homes. However, I hope the Chancellor, Prime Minister and Home Secretary are planning to couple this with a fair but strong, universal immigration policy to cut net migration to sensible levels that revolves around harnessing skilled migrants. Furthermore, Britons must rightly be prioritized for such housing.
Announcements that I half-heartedly welcome include the Universal Credit taper rate cut meaning claimants will be able to hold onto an addition 2p in the pound, but costing £700m – which is acceptable seen as we could reward here and definitely cut elsewhere first (first being the crucial word). That and the 2% insurance premium tax rise which I think isn’t that big of an ask of car owners, including myself. Both giving and taking but do carry a degree of justification.
I could analyse the positives all day but for the sake of time, I’ll move swiftly on to the few parts of this statement that I’m critical of because I’m guessing that’s why you’re here (as well as the ham sandwich talk). Talking of sarnies, I’ll tell you what did almost make me choke on my sarnies – the lack of limited spending! Anyone that has had to sit through some of my political ramblings will tell you that I’m a massive believer in limited government spending. I may be being a bit harsh on Hardened Hammond in my criticism just because of my rock-solid views, in addition to the fact he was pretty vague about it, but I fail to see the need for £23bn “infrastructure” (bar housing) spending. I just don’t buy into the idea that we need to “Brexit proof” the economy. I harshly and unfortunately believe it’s just an excuse to commit to such spending – a smart excuse, I have to admit, but I still don’t buy it. I mean with limited spending, we could actually think about hiking up the personal allowance to the £13,000 range to take as far as full-time workers on minimum wage out of income tax altogether. I hope it’s a pledge that won’t materialize in its current form and is just designed to reassure those worried about Brexit in terms of infrastructure. I will always stand by my view that if we ever want to balance the books and pass on a strong economy to those as young as myself and beyond, we don’t only need a fair and smart reduction of the welfare state, but we need to keep a tight, transparent lid on government spending.
To finish off the last bite of my ham sandwich, I’d like to touch on the couple of areas where I think the Chancellor could have added. The first being the fact that there will be no cut in the ‘triple lock’ on state pensions that was introduced in the Con-Lib Coalition Government. It would have been a nice touch to announce the ending of it in this statement but it does look like he will eventually put an end to this idea that is unarguably unsustainable in the long-run.
Secondly, a lot of people were hoping for even the slightest bit of reform of the childcare sector, which the Telegraph yesterday also briefly but importanly tocuhed on yesterday afternoon. The highly regulated childcare sector has seen many parents cut working hours because of the high cost of childcare, clearly dampening productivity.
Thirdly, which was also a bit disappointing, was the mention that he was fully behind current overseas aid spending. It was particularly deflating as it doesn’t sound like he’d be willing to cut that at all during his tenure. I’m not saying he should have pledged radical cuts to it in this statement, but it would have been smashing to hear that he’d plan to cut it at the end of this parliament in 2020 when we’re (hopefully) out of the EU Customs Union. Why? Because then we’d be able to take a trade not aid approach to poorer nations, especially with the likes of African nations for example that rely on their agricultural industries – we can’t do this whilst part of a protectionist EU project. Nevertheless, something to push for from 2019 onwards.
Despite the bittersweet Autumn Statement, I managed to finish my lunch without any major catastrophes – time for the Government to fight off the anti-democratic viruses of Parliament,like Feeble Farron (you didn’t think I was going to leave him out, did you?) and get Article 50 across the line. Well done, Mr Hammond – onwards and upwards!