What's in the box? Bad news for women, mainly. Photo: Getty Images
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Once again, the biggest losers from George Osborne's budget are women

Labour needs to have the strength to stand for a better approach – for a stronger economy with sustainable public finances and a fairer, less divided country.


A Budget that betrays working parents - that's what we've had from George Osborne today. 

Families with kids are going to be really hard hit by the Tories plans. Women are going to be hit more than twice as hard as men - by a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who clearly don't give a damn about working parents’ lives.

Many families are going to be thousands of pounds worse off as a result of the £4.5bn cuts to tax credits alone, with over 3million families affected. That's even before you include real cuts in the value of child benefit for the next four years. 

If you're on average pay with two children, you'll lose £2,000 in tax credit cuts next year. 

I'm glad the Tories have finally given in to our calls for a big increase in the minimum wage, but it’s not enough to compensate parents for the tax credits they are cutting. And they certainly shouldn't call it a Living Wage because it still falls short of that.

A single mum with two children working part time on the National Minimum wage will gain just over £400 from higher pay but lose £860 from lower tax credits in 2016/17.

A couple with two kids both working full time on the minimum wage will still be £700 a year worse off. And if you're currently paid more than the minimum wage, you'll be harder hit. 

Plus they are actually discouraging parents from working harder. Earn an extra pound or two and they'll claw half of it back from your tax credits. 

Remember how they said a 50 per cent tax was a disincentive for the highest paid people in the country? Yet they are quite happy to do it for the poorest paid. 

So much for George Osborne's promise to help working people. Do parents just not count as working people? Is this the "lifestyle" George Osborne claimed he didn't want to fund?

And remember David Cameron's pre-election pledge that child tax credit is “not going to fall." It was a lie. This is a shameful betrayal of parents working hard to support their kids and get on in life. In the 21st century working parents shouldn't have to go to food banks to put a hot meal on the table, as too many families now do.

But tax credit cuts aren't the only assault on working parents. The Government is saving £370m from delaying childcare plans - despite having made grand promises before the election about nursery places and tax relief. We warned at the time that their plans weren't funded - so it has proved.

Whilst George Osborne made much in his speech of promising Britain a pay rise, he also slipped in five more years of a 1% cap on public sector pay – below inflation, even though services like the NHS are already facing a serious and growing recruitment and retention problem.

And the research I commissioned today from the House of Commons Library shows that women are being hit over twice as hard as men by the Chancellor’s plans. Of the £34bn net extra money being raised from households over the next five years (taking account of the increases in tax allowances as well as cuts to tax credits and all the changes to benefits), £24bn is coming from women – even though women still earn less than men. David Cameron and George Osborne still have a serious women problem – they just don’t get the impact of their plans on women’s lives. 

Of course the deficit and the debt need to come down. Of course Labour would have had to make tough decisions to get back into surplus. That is why I identified £800m in savings in the home office budget whilst protecting frontline policing- from things like abolishing Police and Crime Commissioners. But it is also why I think George Osborne’s plan to cut inheritance tax now for some of the richest estates is the wrong priority. 

Because there is an alternative to George Osborne’s plans. The Tories approach isn't fair, and isn't good for our economy and our country in the long term. 

At the same time as hitting Britain's families, the Tories are failing to deliver the balanced growth and high paid jobs we need for the future - that also helps bring the deficit down. 

Growth has been revised down this year. So have exports. And so has productivity. That means we're not getting the high skilled jobs our country needs. We need a national mission to almost double R&D investment in our economy to match the 3% of GDP our competitors invest and there were no measures in today’s budget to do that. 

The Chancellor talks about one nation – but he doesn’t think parents are part of that one nation. He talks about a long term plan but he is happy for stagnant growth with weak exports and low productivity to drag our debt up and our economy down.

Labour needs to have the strength to stand for a better approach – for a stronger economy with sustainable public finances and a fairer, less divided country: the two things go hand in hand.

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.