The Chancellor highlighted his help for families in yesterday's Budget, but few will end up better off as a result of the changes. In fact, a new freeze on inheritance tax increases could end up costing some families a lot more than they may make through the more popular moves such as increasing tax credits and the stamp duty holiday.
Even the announcement that he is staggering the rise in fuel duty over the next 12 months will simply delay the financial pain for families already facing an increase in the cost of their weekly shop through extra tax on booze and cigarettes, being introduced from midnight on Sunday.
On top of the 2 per cent increases in wine, beer and spirit duties, some families will be hit by the 10 per cent increase in cider duty. Smokers are only slightly worse off with a 1 per cent increase in duty.
But families will also be hit by the new landline duty – the so-called broadband tax – of 50p a month and also have the 1p rise in national insurance contributions to look forward to from April 2011. So is there any good news?
Parents eligible for child tax credit were targeted by with the promise of a £4 weekly rise in the credit for those with young children aged one and two. But the rise will not come in until 2012, two years away. In other words the Chancellor's cash is aimed at prospective mums and dads, because any babies already born will end up too old for their parents to benefit from the increase.
Mr Darling, when announcing his headlining stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers, said he made the move because he was "determined to do more to help families take that crucial first step on the housing ladder". The holiday is available on homes worth up to £250,000, which could in effect save first-time buyers up to £2,500 in stamp duty. The Government claims the change will mean nine out of 10 first-time buyers will pay no stamp duty.
The Chancellor also announced he is extending the enhanced support for mortgage interest scheme for six more months until December. Under the scheme, struggling homeowners who cannot meet their mortgage payments after losing their job get government help with interest payments. In 2009, the scheme was revised so that homeowners who lost their jobs could claim after 13 weeks, instead of the previous 39 and the rate increased to 6.08 per cent from the previous base rate plus 1.58 per cent. Mr Darling said: "I will continue to pay this support at the higher rate for another six months."
He also said he will continue the additional payments alongside the winter fuel payment next winter, which is worth £100 more to households with someone aged over 80, and £50 more to households with someone over female state pension age.
Against these cash boosts families could be hit by the freezing of the inheritance tax nil rate band at its present £325,000 level for the next four years.
"The freezing of the inheritance tax band until 2014-15 could cost a couple an additional £37,000 in inheritance tax in real terms," warned Frank Nash, a senior tax partner at chartered accountants Blick Rothenberg. "We are not just talking about wealthy families, who will be hit. The Chancellor's plans will affect married couples or civil partners who are jointly worth more than £650,000. Taking into account the value of many family homes it means that hundreds of thousands of people will be hit."
The view from the marginals: 'I fear I won't be able to afford to send my children to university'
Kay Wilkinson, Mother
Labour majority in 2005: 2,180
The NHS is a big concern for me and I'm disappointed Alistair Darling hasn't spoken about it. I would have liked to have heard more about the plans for the future of the NHS. For example, the paediatrics ward at the local hospital is moving, and we're afraid that they are gradually trying to shut the hospital down.
I'm also disappointed they haven't spoken about university funding. One of my fears is that I won't be able to afford to send my children to university. We've put money in a trust fund for them, but even that is not worth much at the moment following the economic crisis.
I think the rise in ISA allowances is a good thing. My husband and I have a couple of ISAs and we try to fill our allowances.
In terms of the extent of public borrowing, there's not much I can say. I don't know what other options this country has got. However, I don't think the Conservatives would have handled the recession any differently.
I voted Labour in the last election as I have always felt Labour is more inclusive of the lower classes, while the Tories have been about the rich. However, I'm at the point of no-confidence following the expenses and cash-for-access scandals. I don't like David Cameron or the public image he works so hard at. I can't bring myself to vote Conservative, and the Labour Party is falling on its arse, so I'll look at my other options.
Did you know?
Budget Day is the only occasion of the parliamentary year when reply to a minister is not delegated to his shadow.