Autumn statement comment: Only the well-off benefit from Osborne’s tinkering
By Natalie Bennett
As I write, newspapers up and down the land will be crunching the numbers, looking at their case studies of 'the couple with two kids', 'the 40-something businesswoman', 'the student', working out what the autumn statement will mean for their individual circumstances.
Yet already, quite a lot is clear. There are some nuggets in here for the wealthy or the relatively wealthy: to benefit from a tax-free inheritance of ISAs requires that there is a significant ISA to pass on – a distant dream when so many households struggle to meet their basic needs and can't imagine the possibility of saving.
Reductions in stamp duty will be of use to those buying homes – yet there were no measures at all for renters, struggling with out-of-control private landlords and the crushing unavailability of council homes. And there was nothing to deal with the poor quality of our housing stock, which sees millions suffering with poorly insulated, hard-to-heat homes.
The continued freezing of fuel duty (when poorer households are far less likely to have access to a car and two-thirds of jobseekers have no such access) and the ending of air passenger duty for children (which has certainly helped airline share prices) will again mostly benefit wealthier households.
The lift in the personal tax allowances – the Lib Dems' favourite boast about the impact of their involvement in the coalition – benefits the well off far more than the poor (many of whom are already under the threshold.)
Then there are student loans for master's degrees. That will offer some hope for some, but given that three-quarters of students are not expected to be able to pay back their existing loans, saddling them with more debt is not a very sensible idea.
However, I can only be glad that the chancellor has picked up the rhetoric of UK Uncut, the Green party and others in talking about multinational companies paying their "fair share" of taxes. We'll have to wait to see the detail of the so-called 'Google tax' and how it will play out but it's at least a start. Given that the tax take from the big corporations is down 14% under this government, it will be interesting to see whether this new measure will make up the difference.
Then there's the question of the impact of the autumn statement on the environment. Unsurprisingly, you no longer hear ministers referring to this as the "greenest government ever", as they described themselves at the start of their term.
You get the feeling they probably don't like hearing it, given their record.
So I'll say it again… this supposedly "greenest government ever" has delivered yet another thoroughly ungreen statement. There's the road building – the kind of wasteful pork-barrelling more usually seen rolling out of the US Congress. And there's the benefits for airlines and air travellers, but nothing to tackle expensive rail and bus fares.
Then, finally, the tone of this speech deserves comment. This – arguably the second most-important speech made in parliament after the Budget – contained a couple of what can only be described as cheap shots, with the reference to Wallace and Grommit, at Ed Miliband's expense, particularly gratuitous. Indeed some were asking whether the TV tax break had been included simply so as to get in the gag about the appearance of the leader of the opposition.
That, combined with the continual shouting and interrupting of both the chancellor's speech and the response from Ed Balls will once again do nothing for the general judgement of politics and politicians.
Nor will the fact that this government is now clearly in desperate, pre-election, never-mind-the-logic-or-the-evidence mode. Its key philosophical framework, austerity, has clearly failed. It has been forced to acknowledge the economic risks that swell all around us, yet has done nothing to reduce our exposure to those through our fraud-ridden, massively over-large financial sector. It turned its back on the low-paid, the unemployed and the young at the start of its term – and it has paid attention to them since only in seeing how much more it can make them pay for the financial failures in which they had no part.
Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green party
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