Wednesday, 18 March 2015

3 Things to Note From the 2015 Budget Announcement.


Chancellor George Osbourne with his red Budget Box of policies. [EPA]
It's Budget Day! Today saw the announcement of the British Coalition Government's budget for the forthcoming fiscal year, by Chancellor George Osbourne. The Budget, in essence, evaluates the past year and sets out the plans for the next year with regards to economic policy; things like whether taxes on certain things should be raised or lowered, whether the government will invest further in a project and so on.

The whole event gives itself much reason to be sceptical; they are often used as more politically charged electioneering events, and even moreso with Britain just a couple of months away from an election. Here are three things I took away from the Chancellor's speech today.

1) Britain's economy is doing relatively well.
As Osbourne proudly announced today, Britain had the fastest growing economy of any developed nation in the world, as deemed by the International Monetary Fund, who estimated Britain's unemployment and inflation rates to be lower than they turned out. These two numbers are in fact lower than ever, with unemployment expected to fall to just 5.3% this year and inflation below 2%. But with regards to employment, there is a problem; because many of the jobs 'created' have been what are known as 'zero hours contracts'- these are job contracts within which the employer is under no obligation to give no minimum number of hours to its workers.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 697,000 people (over 2% of the British workforce) are employed under ZHCs, and over one third of them are unhappy about the number of hours they are receiving. These employees often receive so few hours that they are unable to afford the rising cost of living, but their employed status puts unemployment benefits out of their reach. Their lack of status as a full employee then puts them in a position where they can't access benefits such as holiday pay, leaving many in a worse financial situation than they would be if they were out of work. A significant proportion of the jobs created under the Conservative government have been ZHOs, with over 100,000 being created between 2013-14. So employment may be higher, but with cases such as those of Zero Hour Contracts, one must think more about the quality of employment being created than the job alone.

2) "Football, beer, and above all gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult."
I'm often reminded of this poignant quote from George Orwell's literary masterpiece, 1984, whenever rumours are abound of government plans to reduce taxes. No doubt Osbourne and Co. have announced this with the election fast approaching in mind, and with the Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association calling him a "hat-trick hero" because of it, there's no doubt it will work in gaining Tory support with many. As Osbourne announced tax duty of a pint of beer and cider are to drop by 1p and 2p respectively. For the third year in a row, Osbourne announced tax duty of a pint of beer and cider are to drop by 1p and 2p respectively. He claims it has the potential to create 3,800 jobs in the forthcoming year, but I wonder: is this really the way we should go trying to create employment?
The government seems to be continuing (rightly IMO) its efforts to minimise the nation's consumption, following up on its previous promise to increase tobacco duty by 2% starting today, but why is it doing the opposite with alcohol? Alcohol is an equally damaging drug, if not more damaging due to how much more common it is and its association with events such road accidents and street violence. One-third of the visitors to our already suffering A&E facilities are there due to alcohol- even more during the weekends. 2014 saw almost 6000 more people having to receive alcohol treatment than 2013. The total cost of alcohol-related harm to society is £21bn, and it is costing the NHS £3.5bn a year.
The state of our society with regards to alcohol, why it may not be spectacularly poor on a global stage, has much much to improve. And in my opinion, lowering taxes on alcohol, making it cheaper, is no way to solve the problems that are worth far more than 3800 jobs this could bring.


3) Google and Co. will soon have to pay their taxes
In 2012, Starbucks made profits of over £400m in Britain- yet paid £0 to the Treasury as corporation tax that every registered company operating in the country is obligated to pay. Google had a turnover of £395m in the same year, yet paid just £6m. And it's not just these two companies; six major technology firms including Apple, Google and Facebook made profits of over £14bn in Britain, but paid just 0.3% of this in the form of tax. It sounds scandalous, but the thing is that these companies didn't technically break the law- they didn't evade tax, they avoided it thanks to loopholes that allowed them to store their profits in accounts abroad, avoiding the tax radar of Britain. This left the government pretty powerless to prosecute, but what Osbourne has announced here today is a plan to close that loophole to prevent such behaviour continuing.
Dubbed the 'Google Tax', the 'Diverted Profits Tax' plans were announced today- to put it simply, companies will have to report themselves to the HMRC (Tax authorities) if they are making annual turnovers of over £10m, and will have to comply with investigations that determine how much of the profits have been moved abroad, and pay the taxes determined as a result. The government expects to make £3.1bn from this move over the next five years- not a significant amount, considering the scale of government finances, and it is something that clever corporate lawyers are probably going to flout sometime soon. But nevertheless, it's an important move from the government to let multinationals like Google and Starbucks know that there is no place for tax avoiders in Britain.


Recommended reads: 

Budget Calculator: How Will The Budget Affect You [BBC] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17442946

The Budget- Official Document https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413949/47881_Budget_2015_Web_Accessible.pdf

Alcohol treatment in England 2013-14 http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/adult-alcohol-statistics-2013-14-commentary.pdf
Mohammad Lone Editor