George Osborne stole Ed Miliband’s most popular tunes, but the record as a whole remained impeccably Conservative. Permanent non-domicile status will be abolished, while there will be a compulsory national “living wage” of £9 an hour by 2020 and 30 hours of free childcare for children aged 3 and 4.
But beneath those headlines the picture is grim. The rise in the minimum wage to £7.20 is 65p short of the living wage today. The minimum wage is forecast to rise to that level by 2020 in any case. In reality what is being offered is a rebranded minium wage, not a real living wage.
The rest of the budget felt like a lengthy party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats’ influence in coalition. Cuts to housing benefits for 18-21 year olds will include exemptions for those leaving care but will hit people who, for one reason or another, find themselves ejected from the family home at 18. Those people lucky to be in the five per cent of British familes who pay inheritance tax will, however, recieve a boost in the shape of an increase in the inheritance tax threshold to £1m.
Student maintenance grants will be converted to loans by 2017-8: students from poorer backgrounds will now have a larger debt burden than their wealthier peers. This is effectively the same as having two 40p rates: a 40p rate for people whose parents were also on the 40p rate, and a 41p rate for people whose parents were on basic rate or below. Working-age benefits – including in-work benefits – will be frozen for four years. ESA will be cut to the level of Jobseeker’s Allowance, hitting disabled people both in and out of work to the tune of £30 a week. The benefit cap is lowered again, to £23,000 in London and £20,000 outside of it.
There was one dog than didn’t bark: the 45p rate remains uncut.