Mixed emotions

Leading charities and campaign groups tell the <em>New Statesman</em> what they think of the Chancel

Age Concern and Help the Aged

In a Budget for jobs, workers over 50 have once again slipped under the government’s radar. With today’s figures showing unemployment among the over 50s rising at a higher rate than among any other age group - over the last year‚ unemployment has risen by 40% among the 50 plus age group‚ faster than any other age group according to the Labour Force Survey (April 2009) - without targeted help for over 50s, ministers risk creating a lost generation of older people shut out of the job market and walking into a retirement blighted by pensioner poverty.

Maintaining the Winter Fuel Payment, measures to help grandparents and help for low-income savers will provide cheer to pensioners in an otherwise gloomy Budget. But the failure to do more to tackle fuel poverty will continue to leave many pensioners out in the cold.

More traineeships are welcome but the failure to provide emergency funding for our creaking social care system will exacerbate the current crisis. In an era of difficult financial choices, ministers must not use the recession as an excuse to starve the care system of funds it urgently needs or be distracted from much needed long-term reform.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director

Action for Children

Given the challenges facing the Chancellor today it is good to see that money has been earmarked to improve the employment prospects of young people facing up to a very uncertain future.

However, for the promise to provide jobs and training to the under-25s to be truly effective these opportunities must be made accessible to the most vulnerable.

In addition, more must be done to make sure that their skills, self-confidence and emotional wellbeing are nurtured so that they can achieve their full potential and become the skilled workforce of the future.

While efficiency savings are understandable in the current climate it is also vital that services providing a lifeline to vulnerable families don’t fall under the axe of short-term cost cutting. This preventative approach not only reduces anti-social behaviour and the risk of family breakdown, but will ultimately reduce the long-term costs to society as a whole.

Clare Tickell, Chief Executive

Oxfam

Oxfam's Budget highlight was the Chancellor’s announcement that he would stick to the UK’s promises on overseas aid. This decision shows that tackling overseas poverty is a real priority and not something to be ditched when times are hard. It shows leadership and boosts Gordon Brown’s chances of persuading other leaders to follow suit when the G8 meets in July.

On climate change the verdict must be more mixed. Carbon budgets are a world first; a much-needed step towards meeting the UK’s targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that economic recovery is sustainable. They, along with investment in energy saving and clean energy could help limit the negative impact of climate change on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

But new money to help the world's poorest and most vulnerable, who are being hit the hardest by climate change and are the least responsible for causing it, was conspicuous by its absence. The government needs to hold back from approving new coal-fired power stations unless they are fully fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage technology. Counting carbon while building a new generation of coal-fired power stations would be like measuring water levels while opening the floodgates.

Tackling poverty at home was one of the key themes of the Chancellor’s speech – something Oxfam called for in a report published earlier this month.

Additional help to get people back to work is welcome. But those who do not make it back to work had little to cheer. Jobseeker's Allowance is worth just £64 per week. Few can live on that. Three-quarters of people polled for Oxfam said they couldn’t.

An increase of £15 per week – taking us back to 1997 levels - would have cost just £1.5 billion and would have made a real difference to millions. Despite the parlous state of the public finances, money could have been found. The government has earmarked £14.5 billion for identity cards, for example. In that sense at least, the Budget was a missed opportunity.

Kirsty Hughes, Head of Policy and Advocacy

Refugee Action

We are pleased to see the Chancellor promising to invest in the futures of young people so that Britain can avoid creating a 'lost generation'. However, the government persists in creating a 'lost generation' of young men and women who have come to this country for refuge. They are denied the chance to work or to gain new skills - sometimes for many years. The UK is losing out on their skills, which could benefit our economy and society, and instead they are being forced into poverty and hopelessness.

We are pleased that the government has pledged to safeguard frontline services. However, we are concerned that 'efficiency savings' from the public sector could have an adverse effect on the most vulnerable in our society if they also impact on the charities that support them. It is essential that the government continues to recognise the vital work of the voluntary sector in alleviating poverty and promoting social justice.

Sandy Buchan, Chief Executive

Shelter

The housing crisis, which has been so much a cause of the wider economic crisis, was the result of 20 years of under-investment in housebuilding. And given the state of government finances, expecting the Budget to remedy that failure in a single sitting would have been naive indeed.

In that context, a £1 billion package, while not nearly enough to offer real hope to the millions threatened by repossession or struggling to access any type of decent and affordable housing, represents a welcome statement of intent. What is necessary, though, is for that acceptance that housing is a top priority to be shared by governments to come for many years to come. Only by investing consistently in matching the supply of housing to the ever-growing levels of demand will we put a lid on reckless levels of borrowing caused by rampant house price inflation and remove the risk that a housing failure will again tip the economy into crisis.

Adam Sampson, Chief Executive

WaterAid

The UK government will hold firm on its commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of GNI for international development, and remains on track to deliver £9.1 billion of Overseas Development Aid by 2010-11. This is good news.

However the UK Department for International Development needs to think more strategically about how they use their budget. These decisions need to be made at a time of reduced government resources and a global increase in poverty. Against this economic backdrop, it is worth reflecting on two hard facts for water and sanitation: lack of access currently costs developing countries as much as 9 per cent of their GDP; every dollar invested in water and sanitation stands to bring an $8 return.

The government must now ensure that safe drinking water and sanitation – areas that currently receive much less funding than other well-publicised areas of development - are given more priority. When lack of access to these basic services accounts for 28 per cent of all under-five deaths in the world – far more than malaria, HIV/AIDs and tuberculosis combined – how can this underinvestment be justified?

Oliver Cumming, Policy Officer for Sanitation & Environment

World Development Movement

Occasionally, politicians are faced with circumstances so extraordinary that they require a move far outside of their ideological comfort zone. An unprecedented overlapping set of financial, climate and poverty crises, such as we face at present, is one of those times.

Today’s budget was an opportunity for the Chancellor to seize this moment by driving forward the economic sea change needed to move towards a sustainable low carbon society.

On one level, the Chancellor seems to have recognised this, committing new money for renewable energy and investments in green manufacturing and technology.

But the scale and potential of these initiatives, which would provide genuinely ‘green’ shoots of recovery, have been massively undersold in terms of the level of investment needed. Worse, they have been undermined by other contradictory measures, such as tax cuts for big business to extract 2 billion barrels of oil and gas.

Gordon Brown has talked about the need for a ‘green new deal’. But the lasting impression from today’s budget must be of an opportunity recognised but ultimately missed by a government without the courage of its green convictions.

Julian Oram, Head of Policy

Women's Budget Group

It is always difficult to see how the budget impacts on women, because it is not developed with this in mind: as women make up half the electorate, and are disproportionately living in poverty, while shouldering most of the care of children and the elderly, this must change.

The Chancellor says he wants a fairer society, and he was right to cut tax breaks for high earners, despite predictable threats from the City of a mass exodus. We welcome increases in benefits for carers, including recognition of the childcare grandparents provide. But public spending cuts will have serious results: this was a missed opportunity to stimulate the economy by investing in the care sector, while  low income mothers, who manage poverty and act as shock absorbers to protect their children from its worst effects, will bear the burden of the shameful failure to meet the government’s child poverty target.

Janet Veitch, Co-Chair