The big Budget losers? Working families

IFS analysis finds that a million working families will lose £500 a year as new tax changes come in.

Amidst the clamour over pasties, jerry cans, and email surveillance, the Budget seems like a distant memory. But with the new financial year starting tomorrow, certain changes will come into force – and it is not looking good for middle-income families.

Despite the raft of negative headlines about George Osborne’s so-called “granny tax”, analysis published today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found that pensioners stand to suffer the least.

In fact, it is families with children who will bear the brunt. Up to a million families with children stand to lose £511 a year under new tax and benefit changes.

More than 850,000 families on middle incomes – with an average income of £38,000 – will lose their entire child tax credit, which is worth around £545 a year. The picture is bleaker lower down the income scale. Up to 212,000 working couples with children, earning less than £17,000 a year, will lose all their working tax credit – worth up to £3,870 a year – unless they increase their working hours.

This is because of two changes to tax credits. The first is a cut in the income limit for child tax credit from about £40,000 to about £26,000 for a family with one child. The second is an increase in the number of hours that families with children must work to qualify for working tax credit from 16 to 24 hours a week.

Despite the increase in the personal allowance – which is incorporated into the IFS figures –these families will still see a net loss. Separate analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests that the changes to working tax credit mean that a single earner on the minimum wage (£6.08 per hour) who works 20 hours a week will lose £3,910 – more than a quarter of their income.

It is a political tight spot for the coalition, which purports to be a family friendly government. The “squeezed middle” is set to be a potent battleground, both in upcoming local elections and in the next general election.

The Treasury highlighted the rise in personal tax allowance, and stressed that the analysis was commissioned by the Labour shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

But in conjunction with the cut in the top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 a year, this squeeze on ordinary families is difficult to defend. Indeed, reducing the 50p rate of tax presented a gift for Labour: tax cuts for millionaires as the rest of the population continues to suffer is a clear, media-friendly message. Polls already show that a majority of people think the cabinet is out of touch with ordinary voters; this will do nothing to help. So far, a loss of support for the coalition’s austerity has not been matched by an upsurge of trust in Labour on the economy. The question is whether these real cuts to the incomes of working families – the very demographic the coalition claims to defend – will lead to a shift in public opinion. It is certainly clear – once again – that the government cannot truthfully claim that its cuts are fairly distributed.
 

Ed Balls commissioned the IFS analysis. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.