Budget: First-time buyers, savers and hard-fought constituencies in Chancellor’s sights
- Credit: PA
First time buyers, savers and voters in hard-fought constituencies were in the sights of the chancellor as he made his final budget outing of the parliament.
A new tax-free allowance of £1,000 and a Help to Buy Isa for people aspiring to get on the property ladder were the hallmarks of a financial blueprint which he delivered claiming: 'Britain is walking tall again.'
Waveney, Norwich and Great Yarmouth – where the governing Conservatives and Liberal Democrats could be under threat – each got a mention in the budget document.
George Osborne also hoped a penny off a pint for drinkers, and a continued freeze in fuel duty – a saving of 0.54p a litre – would turn voters' heads in what looks set to be the tightest election fight in a generation.
Rural communities were also given a boost, with a move to allow Britain's farmers to average their incomes over five years – a key National Farmers Union election manifesto plea.
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The Liberal Democrats hailed a budget 'packed' with their policies, including a further increase in the tax threshold.
They also claimed credit for the money-making measure to reduce the lifetime allowance for pension contributions which benefit from tax relief from £1.25m to £1m – a move which they say will affect the top 4pc of wealthiest individuals. They are set to deliver their own plans for the economy in the House of Commons today.
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Norwich South MP Simon Wright said the budget was good for workers, savers, and motorists in rural counties such as Norfolk.
But added: 'Everything has to be paid for, and this is a responsible Budget. That's why banking levies will be increased, why further measures to tackle tax avoidance will be introduced, and by reducing the lifetime allowance tax relief for pension contributions.'
The chancellor also made a major play to reassure voters that he would not be slashing public spending, indicating that austerity could now end a year earlier than previously planned. He is now aiming for a public sector surplus of £7bn in 2019/20, instead of £23.1bn.
But independent official forecasters said the plans implied a 'rollercoaster profile' for public services over the next few years with a deeper tightening for 2016/17 and 2017/18 before a sharp spending rise in 2019/2020.
Ed Miliband said people would not believe the budget, claiming there had never been such a large gap between the rhetoric and the reality of people's lives.
He said: 'People are £1,600 a year worse off, the next generation has seen wages plummet and tuition fees treble. You have built fewer homes than at any time for nearly 100 years. And it's certainly not a truly national recovery when there are more zero hours contracts than the population of Glasgow, Leeds and Cardiff combined. That is the reality of the lives of working people.'
Norwich Labour candidate Jessica Asato said Mr Osborne had 'tried to make a fool of the rest of us by pretending our living standards had all improved since he became the chancellor'.
She said: 'Labour has pledged to challenge this low wage, insecure economy by increasing the National Minimum Wage to £8 which will boost wages for 115,600 low paid workers in the East of England.
'We will also cut and freeze business rates for small businesses benefiting 169,000 properties in the East. Finally, our compulsory jobs guarantee will help 1,460 young people in the East of England back into work.'
Norwich South Green candidate Lesley Grahame said: 'We know the economic policies of the Coalition have failed the British public, and whatever George Osborne insisted during the Budget speech, this government has driven up inequality, increased poverty and redistributed wealth to the already highly privileged.'
What did you think of the budget? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE
For more on the Budget, see our eight page pullout.