While making many hat tips in the right direction, unfortunately, this was mainly a Budget of half measures and missed opportunities.
Moves to bridge the gap in taxes paid by employees and the self employed are broadly welcome but the Chancellor failed to address the huge disparity in tax rates, with the rates of tax on dividends and company profits still substantially lower than the marginal rate of tax paid by most working people. The Government could and should have equalised the rates of taxes on income, corporate profits and dividends at around 30%.
In addition, moves to reduce business rates, while welcome, are nowhere near significant enough to prevent them slowly choking the life out of Britain’s high streets. The UK Government should look to halve these rates, with corporation tax profits shared with local councils to help make up the shortfall.
Rather than funnelling additional money into Theresa May’s Grammar School vanity project, the Chancellor should have ensured existing schools have the money they need to meet rising demand. However, the introduction of T Levels must be welcomed as a long overdue way of bridging the gap between academic and vocational learning, ensuring young people no longer see vocational courses as second best.
Again, while welcome, the increases in funding for health and social care spending will not address the huge black hole in health budgets. By ditching their pale alternative and introducing the real living wage, the Government could reduce spending on tax credits, with the money saved going to the health service. In addition, increasing the top rate of tax to 50% and abolishing high rate pension relief would also provide additional revenue for health and social care. Ministers must also take concrete steps to merge health and social care budgets and systems to ensure they always work together.
The meagre investment announced for roads in the North of England is nowhere near enough to deliver the Government’s grand plans of creating a Northern Power House or Midlands Engine. With interest rates and gilt yields at historic lows, the Chancellor should be prepared to borrow significant amounts of money to invest in roads, rail and fibre networks to help make up the UK’s productivity gap with the rest of the G7.
In addition, as well as cracking down on buy-to-let mortgages, which are a major cause of the UK’s overheated housing market, funds should be made available, potentially through so-called ‘peoples’ quantitative easing, to build the houses our country so desperately needs.
While this Chancellor and the Government talk of creating a fair society and helping those at the bottom, so far, their actions have failed to speak louder than their words.