A beautiful morning on the allotments, even the hens seemed less inclined to squabble as their various runs were bathed in a golden glow. As we codgers snuffled around, the main topic of conversation was the Osborne budget. We all knew that the richest were due for a bonanza, what we hadn’t expected was the hammering of the over-65s. There seems a distinct possibility that squeaky George has achieved the near impossible of shooting himself in the foot whilst reading a one-hour long sermon. He will certainly be dismayed to read today’s newspapers for every right-wing edition has chosen ‘Granny tax’ as its main story. The Daily Telegraph has the size of headline normally reserved for the outbreak of war; ‘Granny tax hits 5m pensioners’.
The Conservatives had confidently expected its supporters to herald the decision to reduce the tax levels of the rich, clearly they underestimated the response to the decision to fund that by changing the tax rules for pensioners. In fact Osborne mentioned it almost in passing, and for a time few in the Commons seemed to grasp its political significance. When everyone woke up, the condemnation came not only from the opposition benches.
Outside of the House those stalwart defenders of the elderly, Saga, were first off the mark. The director-general, Dr Ros Altmann, declared this budget to be “an outrageous assault on decent middle-class pensioners”. There was nothing, he said, for savers, nothing to appease the damage of quantative easing and nothing to support ISA changes and shelter older people’s money. “This budget is terrible news for pensioners, it contains an enormous stealth tax” was his final summary. Leading Tories, particularly those in marginal constituencies, were quick to remark that this was “madness”.
The uproar has served to cloud the whole post-budget analysis. With the economy continuing to flounder it was no surprise that the budget was overall financially neutral. Some will benefit, some will lose. Amongst the former are top earners. Around 14,000 millionaires will gain around £40,000 per year. Yes, they will pay higher stamp duty if they buy property, but the majority won’t do so. The other sop offered was tougher laws on tax avoidance but details were missing and the probability is that an army of well-heeled accountants will find a way around any wheeze produced. Osborne himself uses such methods for his own finances, so he is off to a head start.
But the government was relying on the argument that reducing top tax will in some mysterious way lead to increased employment and enterprise. Many would have believed this, now everyone is focussed on pensioners, many of whom will lose out as a result of what honest George called a simplification of the tax system.
The ‘Granny’ row even eclipsed concerns at Osborne’s announcement of yet more cuts on welfare payments, hospitals and schools. Already £10 billion has been earmarked so we can expect massive impacts on the NHS, where cuts in nursing numbers are already the largest for ten years. And benefits? The estimate being touted by economists is a reduction of £500 per person.
Almost unnoticed so far are the changes to gift-aid in regard to philanthropy. Charities are now largely dependent on wealthy supporters who can claim back part of their donations. That is to be capped and the Charities Aid Foundation warns that the change will cost charities miilions of desperately needed pounds. Farewell Big Society.
It would be good to be a fly on the wall of Number 10 this morning. When Ed Balls suddenly coined the phrase about Grannies he struck a chord with millions. It was clever since this was one of the few features of the budget that had not been leaked in advance. Today the recriminations will be echoing down the corridors of Old Etonian land.
There was certainly little to laugh about, but for once Ed Miliband put a smile on our faces. “Now you will be able to buy your own horse”, he told his opposite number.
FULL MARKS FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES!
On March 11th the Sunday Times provided in-depth analysis of the failed SBS mission to rescue the two hostages held captive in Nigeria. The piece carried the headline “Hostage tragedy of ‘mission impossible’ “, it carried a picture of an SBS soldier with his identity hidden by a black rectangle. He was carrying an assault rifle.
Why did the Times need to hide the trooper’s identity? To save him from retribution? No, because the picture turns out to be none other than John ‘Soap’ MacTavish, whom younger readers will recognise as a fictional character from the computer game ‘Call of Duty’.
Clearly all is well in the world of Murdoch!