Mr Brown has made enough confusion to get away with the craftier measures

PERSONAL FINANCE journalists, in my experience, tend to be among the most blase within our profession. Give us a Budget full of measures designed to help vulnerable groups like the unemployed or the elderly and we will sneer that it was "boring" because it contained no specific proposals either on tax or investment.

By that definition, the Chancellor certainly shut most of us up this week. He simultaneously managed to help key groups in society, such as parents and their children, and pensioners, without hurting the better- off disproportionately.

Trying to work out exactly how each individual will be affected is difficult. Giving with one hand while taking away with another means that Mr Brown has managed to introduce enough confusion needed to get away with some of the craftier measures.

Take the scrapping of the married couple's allowance, which takes away pounds 190 from one class of taxpayer. This will be done in April next year. But children's tax credit, which aims to replace it, does not come in until a year after that.

Or the abolition of Miras from next year, which Mr Brown suggested was a move so insignificant as to be almost welcomed by mortgage borrowers and their lenders. For anyone who has seen their mortgage fall in five successive interest rate reductions, the fact that the monthly cost of a mortgage above pounds 30,000 will rise by pounds 17.37 is a mere bagatelle, or so he implied. True - until you consider that the rate reductions followed several rises in the preceding 18 months.

Moreover, the Chancellor has introduced anomalies which don't make sense. How, for example, can he justify cutting the starting rate of tax to 10 per cent but keep the tax on savings at 20 per cent? Sure, he might argue that after 6 April savers will want to stash their money in a tax-free ISA. Actually, some might have preferred to use their ISA allowance to invest fully in equities. Far-fetched? Maybe: except now they won't have a choice.

As for the proposal to allow employees to invest in their own companies' shares, it depends on which company you work for. All of us have at some point in our lives, said something along the lines of: "Things would be so much better if we were in charge, not them." Sadly, that never seems to happen.

Investing in one's own firm places employees at the mercy of their managers' skills (and we know how skilled some of them are), or wider economic factors. Investing in the shares of a single company is a risky business, tax- free or not.

Still, let's not be churlish: overall this is a Budget, albeit in a low- key manner, will help people in need. It may not be redistribution of the most radical variety - but it beats the hell out of some Budgets we have seen in the past two decades.

u

WHAT HAPPENS if the company you dealt with does not belong to any arbitration scheme? This appears to be the case with Swinton Insurance, as we write on page 5. At the time of writing, Swinton is preparing to meet with the client concerned in a bid to resolve his complaint. Whether it does or not is immaterial to me. The important point to note is that here is a company which refuses independent arbitration to its customers and blandly tells pensioners that if they want redress they should sue. Do you really want to give it your business?

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