George Osborne delivered an essentially reactive final budget in what could be his last outing as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The big story is a huge easing of austerity – thanks to the fact that Osborne’s target for a surplus has gone down from £23bn by 2020 to £7bn, and with it, that Labour attack line about taking spending back to the 1930s.
Now he plans to take spending levels back to 2000 – under a Labour government, no less.
There will be criminal sanctions for tax avoiders and, thanks to additional revenues, the debt target has now been met – another Labour attack line defused. And the lifetime allowance for pensioners has been cut from £1.25m to £1m in a bid to defang the “intergenerational war” charge – and, more importantly, it’s deprived Labour of £600m of revenue for their tuition fee cut.
Osborne claimed this was a “truly national recovery” with strong growth in the north. By doing this, he aims to neutralise Miliband’s refrain that this is a recovery “for the few, not the many”, and that areas outside Tory control have been hardest hit. He also claimed that living standards will be higher in 2015 than they were in 2010, a rebuttal to the Labour attack that working people are not yet feeling the return to growth.
It wasn’t much of a giveaway budget, with Osborne claiming “we’d be spending money we didn’t have”, but there was a small rabbit, in the shape of a new “Help to Buy ISA”: the government will add £50 for every £200 that savers looking to buy their first homes put in, but only if their home costs under £250,000 (or £450,000 in London).