As the country absorbs Philip Hammond’s final spring Budget, charities, business leaders and campaigners analyse the chasm between what he said, what he did, and what he should have done.
Tax hikes for self-employed
In order, he said, to make the tax system fairer, the chancellor announced plans to increase the amount of National Insurance paid by the self-employed, closing the gap between them and employees.
It was a move that sparked instant debate.
Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual assistant platform Time Etc, comments: “Instead of preserving Britain’s culture of entrepreneurialism, Mr Hammond has instead imposed heavier NICs on the self-employed, who don’t get the luxury of paid annual leave, employer pension contributions or enhanced parental leave pay, and must support themselves through periods of no work.
“For those reasons alone, self-employed workers should not be expected to contribute the same as employees.”
However, Julian Jessop, chief economist at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “It is right that the self-employed and employed should pay similar National Insurance Contributions – the Government should not set tax rates that artificially favour one form of employment over another. However, it would have been better to level the playing field by cutting NICs for the employed rather than raising those for self-employed.
“NICs are a tax on jobs and wages and reducing their burden would help many lower-income households.”
Ashley Seager, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, said the hikes targeted the wrong group: “The government could have asked the 1.2 million people working after State Pension Age to pay National Insurance like other generations in order to help to plug the social care ago. Instead Mr Hammond went for the working age population once again.”
Cuts to dividend tax-free allowance
Shareholders and business owners who pay themselves in dividends face a sharp cut in their tax-free allowance from April next year. Hammond announced it would be more than halved, falling from £5,000 to £2,000, hurting people who keep substantial amounts of shares outside of an ISA tax-free wrapper.
Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon, said: “We’re disappointed that the dividend tax-free allowance will be cut from £5,000 to £2,000 from April 2018 after being in place for only two years. Savers have been caught in the cross fire as the government seeks to crack down on company owner’s ability to pay themselves dividends.
“Looking for a silver lining, this cut will be partially offset by an increase in the annual ISA allowance and the change also adds to the attractiveness of pensions.”
It was not a new announcement, but the chancellor confirmed a new fixed rate bond from NS&I paying 2.2 per cent over 3 years. The reception was muted.
Hannah Maundrell, spokesperson for money.co.uk, said: “There’s no reason to jump for joy at the launch of the NS&I fixed rate bond – at 2.2% AER it doesn’t make a massive splash. It may sit joint top of the best buy tables for 3 year accounts, but I anticipate the challenger brands will continue to fight for the top spots and trump this shortly after its launch in April.
“The real question is whether it’s a good idea to tie your cash up for this long. With rates on fixed savings accounts finally nudging upwards you could end up selling yourself short by committing.”
Sean McCann, chartered financial planner at NFU Mutual, was even more scathing. He said: “If inflation does increase as expected this year, savers in the new NS&I bond are guaranteed to lose money. It is galling for savers to be told the expected rate of inflation in one breath and in the next be offered a return below that. It may encourage yet more people into stocks and shares investments where both the risks and returns are greater.”
The chancellor confirmed a rise of 2.5 per cent in the State Pension from next month, which translates into £3.90 more a week for pensioners on the flat rate.
However, some commentators argued that he had missed a trick. Saga director, Paul Green, said: “The fact that the chancellor did not take the opportunity to simplify pensions could well put more people off saving for their pension. Pension saving lifetime and annual limits are complex and deter people from saving for their retirement and we feel this regulation should have been abolished in the Budget.
“The government could take a leaf out of the UK’s most successful marketers – the supermarkets, and introduce a pension saving BOGOF – buy one get one free; or three for two offer. This would encourage more pension saving.
“This moves away from the current system which disproportionately benefits higher rate taxpayers. If Middle Britain can be encouraged to save they will live a better life in retirement, be more independent, and, less dependent on the state’s safety net.”
A £2bn additional investment in social care over the next 3 years has been welcomed but Manj Kalar, head of public sector at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, says it doesn’t go far enough.
“The government’s spring budget announcement to provide local authorities with an additional £2bn funding commitment over the next three years to tackle the UK’s adult social care crisis, is a welcome boost – but it’s not a clear or lasting fix for a growing problem,” she said.
“We are concerned it represents no more than a sticking plaster and won’t address the long term issue of sustainability in adult social care funding which needs a holistic view, and one that links to the UK’s health care policies.”
Paul Green agreed: “Whilst today’s announcement to boost funding for social care is a welcome down payment – this will barely scratch the surface of the funding shortfall our local authorities are facing, leaving even more people without the care and support they desperately need. In order to do more to solve the funding crisis, public and private money is needed to improve the system.”
For some commentators it wasn’t so much what was in the Budget as what was left out. Having just recently published a White Paper addressing the country’s housing crisis, the chancellor perhaps thought it would be best not to tinker with the property market.
However, a number of people felt that more could have been done in this spring Budget. Richard Lambert, chief executive at the National Landlords Association, said: “The chancellor has passed up his last opportunity to reverse the damaging plans to restrict mortgage interest relief for landlords before they hit, or even to act on suggestions as to how he might ease the immediate impact. Sadly, he still seems convinced by the Treasury’s analysis of the consequences, and it looks like he will only change his mind when the reality proves different.
“That’s little comfort to the landlords who will be forced up a tax bracket as a result of the changes or potentially forced out of business, nor their tenants who will be faced either with higher rents or the struggle to find another home in an already pressured housing market.”
Others, including Sam Dumitriu, head of projects at the Adam Smith Institute, felt he should have done more to update the UK’s tax system. He said: “We knew this would be the dullest budget in recent history – the chancellor even leaked that in advance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – exciting budgets tend to contain ill thought-out ideas, but there’s a lot he should be doing now to prepare the economy for Brexit by cutting the worst taxes to make us more competitive.
“The chancellor missed an opportunity to make major reforms to our outdated corporate tax system or tackle the thicket of loopholes and exemptions that plague our tax code. But, he has another budget in the autumn, that'll be where the real action is. He should think hard about deeper reforms then.”
Yes, that’s right, another Budget in just a few short months. Whether that’s filled with excitement or more of the same may depend on how the economy performs in between.
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