For most normal people, finding out what the Chancellor did in his Annual Budget is right down there with cutting your kids toenails or Donald Trump on the list of things-one-likes-to-think-about.
That’s because much of what he says (who is he again?!) isn’t directly relevant and even if it is, the sums at stake usually seem pretty small in comparison to the big picture.
Why do we find it impossible to engage with the Budget?
There’s a sense of obligation to take an interest, but when it comes to it, there’s just a whole heap of other stuff to do that’s more immediately important than an update on (probably incorrect) GDP forecasts.
Sure, sometimes some life changing things pop along in the Budget, like Help to Buy or 30 hours free (not actually free) childcare, but when they do and they are relevant to you, the chances are you’ll find out about them through means other than the Budget speech, or the report itself, which, at a weighty few hundred pages, is rarely downloaded by anyone outside of Westminster or Fleet Street.
How to handle Budget Day
Just go about your business.
The speech itself is best avoided unless you are an accountant or political commentator, because its primary purpose is to make things sound better than they are by hamming up the Government’s victories and playing down its failures, by carefully selecting key numbers that are so big as to be meaningless. If you catch it, you’ll be left feeling quite optimistic, but with a sneaky suspicion that this is probably misplaced.
Much better, watch our Facebook Live instead, and wait for twitter responses (#Budget2017) – often more insightful than the Chancellor himself. If you feel obliged to look up the biggest changes, buy one of those newspaper things the next day, even if you don’t usually. The analysis is usually clear and helpful and the comment will give you the context you need to decide whether you need to do anything or whether its life-as-usual.
What won’t he say.. what will he say.. how many jokes will he make?
The main things the Chancellor probably WON’T do are make any beneficial changes to stamp duty (which the housing industry asks for almost every year) or do much to help small businesses, or do anything to unravel the utter mess of Universal Credit. However he is likely to flag more support for the housing market (read: “we will build 300,000 more new homes a year”) and business generally.
It would be nice to hear of some sort of clampdown on large corporate tax avoidance and this is possible, given the huge amount of public and industry support for punishing tax dodgers.
Accountants also want tax simplification “even if it makes tax more expensive” according to accountants at BDO.
There’s also likely to be some tinkering with pension tax reliefs to bring in a bit more revenue – a cut to the maximum annual contribution people can make, for example, which is unlikely to affect anyone but the highest earners.
He’s obliged to say something about the NHS and education – however promises in these areas are likely to be previous commitments, recycled.
And there’s usually, oddly, some huge amount of money committed to boosting North Sea oil, like this is the only thing the UK has going for it (for the record, we’d like to see more support for the speedy roll out of cheaper renewables UK).
Mr Hammond made some pretty good jokes in his first Budget speech – he might be inclined to make a few more, if anything, to distract us from how bad things are and are about to get, thanks to Brexit.