Are you a Budget winner or loser?

Forget fiscal stimulus and abstract deficits, here's what you need to know

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Philip Hammond’s first and last spring Budget seemed a rather chilled affair. The Chancellor languished on the despatch box, cracking the odd joke and confidently messing about with our financial affairs. Just another day in the office. So how will his announcements affect your pocket and will you emerge richer as a result or poorer for his planning? Here’s what the latest Budget means for you.

Self-employed

There was a lot to digest in this Budget for the growing number of self-employed workers in the UK. Self-employed people pay less tax and Hammond claimed this costs the UK taxpayer £5bn a year.

To “improve fairness”, he pledged to charge the self-employed more National Insurance in order to raise an additional £145m a year. Currently, the self-employed pay a small weekly contribution through “Class 2” National Insurance, plus 9 per cent on income earned between £8,060 and £43,000. It’s lower than the 12 per cent rate for employees and there’s obviously no employer contribution either.

To address that, Hammond plans to hike self-employed contributions to 10 per cent next year and then 11 per cent the year after.

He also cut the tax-free dividend allowance, which allows business owners to gain tax advantages by taking their earnings as dividends rather than as a salary. From next year this will fall from £5,000 to £2,000.

Self-employed people, who do not benefit from the security of employment with perks such as sick leave, pension contributions or paid leave, are unlikely to agree with the Chancellor that this will make the system fairer.

Young families

The Chancellor promised to deliver a Budget that would “help ordinary working families”, arguing that too many were still feeling the squeeze almost a decade after the crash.

However, there were not many new announcements specifically targeting #families, but rather Hammond highlighted several schemes that have already been announced.

For example, next month the Tax-Free Childcare scheme is launched, allowing working families to receive up to £2,000 a year towards the cost of childcare, and will be rolled out to all eligible parents by the end of the year. And from September, working parents with preschool-aged children will benefit from 30 hours of funded childcare.

However, apart from schemes that had already been promised, there was very little to get families overexcited in this year’s Budget.

What’s more, a number of changes and taxes that have already been announced will come into force in the next financial year, potentially hitting families in the pocket.

Council tax is set to rise by £60 for Band D properties, energy bills are likely to jump by around £40 as a result of the cost of smart meters, and in June, Insurance Premium Tax will rise from 10 per cent to 12 per cent, adding around £25 a year to the average car insurance policy and hiking the cost of travel insurance, home insurance and many other essential financial products.

JAMs

The Government has repeatedly promised to help the so-called JAMs, those ‘just-about-managing’ households who live close to the poverty line but manage to keep their heads above water. This Budget did not undo some of the good that has been promised, meaning the National Living Wage will still rise to £7.50 an hour next month, giving an extra £500 more to a full-time worker on the lowest salary.

And the personal allowance is set to rise to £11,500 (or £45,000 for the higher rate), which Hammond claims means a typical basic rate taxpayer will pay £1,000 less a year than they did in 2010.

Additionally, the Universal Credit taper rate is being cut from 65 per cent to 63 per cent next month, a move that the Chancellor said would cut tax for 3 million low-income families.

He also promised free school transport for all children who qualify for free school meals and who attend a selective school, perhaps trying to pre-empt claims that the Government’s plans for more grammar schools will hurt the poorest.

However, plenty of struggling families do not qualify for free school meals, meaning they will still face the cost of transport if their children succeed at winning a place in a selective school.

Retirees

Quite a few announcements in the Budget will have pleased pensioners, although none of them are likely to have them dancing with any particular joy.

With rising numbers of very elderly people – the Chancellor mentioned that there are now 500,000 more people aged 75 and over than there were in 2010 – a well-documented crisis in social care has developed.

To help plug that gap Hammond promised an additional £2bn in social care funding over the next three years.

He also confirmed that the State Pension will rise by 2.5 per cent in the new tax year, meaning people on the flat-rate State Pension will get £3.90 more a week, amounting to £159.55, from April.

He did mention a new NS&I bond paying 2.2 per cent on cash locked away for three years but this again is something he had announced last autumn. While 2.2 per cent might be good news for savers, especially pensioners relying on interest as income, it’s not so high that it will make locking cash away for three years an obvious choice.

Sinners

Anyone who smokes, likes a drink or drives a substantial number of miles a year tends to brace themselves a bit at Budget time. It’s all too easy to hike so-called ‘sin taxes’, even if that does leave some consumers considerably out of pocket.

However, this Budget was actually fairly easy on them with no change to duties on alcohol or tobacco and a freeze on vehicle excise duty for lorries and HGVs.

Sugar-filled soft drinks will face a tax hike from April next year, however, of either 18p or 24p a litre, depending on sugar content.

Are we nearly there yet?

For years now the Budget has been an exercise in setting lofty goals for cutting the deficit and then missing them shortly after. This year is no different.

Hammond did sound upbeat as he highlighted that the UK had the second-fastest growing economy in the G7 last year and that the forecast for growth this year has been upgraded from 1.4 per cent to 2 per cent.

Public sector net borrowing is forecast to fall from 3.8 per cent of GDP last year to 2.6 per cent this year, reaching 0.7 per cent by 2021/22.

However, he was forced to admit that public borrowing is still predicted to be 3100 billion times higher by 2020 than had been forecast this time last year. Anyone hoping that future Budgets will be stuffed with more giveaways might find they are still waiting in three years’ time.

 

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