Our budget response: remembering the poor

In this article ECCR Interim Director and head of our Church Action for Tax Justice programme Dr Justin Thacker offers a reflection on the recent budget. 

In my fantasy world, these words are carved in stone at the entrance to HM Treasury. This is especially the case every time a budget comes around. Yesterday’s offering from the Chancellor was no exception.

In an article I wrote for The Times last week, I noted how the pandemic has both deepened existing inequalities and created new ones. Many of those with existing wealth have seen their savings grow, while those without have encountered serious debt, often for the first time. Not only this, but the International Monetary Fund have shown that the financial consequences of an epidemic often last five years longer for those who are poorer than for those who are wealthy.

In light of this, my hope yesterday was for a budget that would take seriously the poverty and inequality that is facing many in our country. To be fair to Rishi Sunak, we did get some measures in that direction. The £20 uplift to Universal Credit, the extension of the Furlough scheme, the increase in the living wage and grants for self-employed are all to be applauded. However, all of these measures are either temporary or superficial.

What we did not see was any serious attempt to tackle the structural injustices at the heart of our society. Increases to Council Tax , freezing of personal allowances and a failure to introduce any kind of wealth taxes when combined with cuts to public spending mean that there isn’t going to be any fundamental change to the lives and livelihoods of those in poverty. Indeed, things may get worse and almost certainly there will be a rise in the deep-seated inequality that plagues us. As Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said regarding the long term impact of the pandemic: 

‘[Rishi Sunak] has just been silent. No money to deal with post-pandemic priorities, no policies to deal with the inequalities that have opened up over the last year between rich and poor, old and young, more and less well-educated. This is a big hole in the Chancellor’s and the government’s policies. A hole which needs to be filled and soon.’

We commented on the budget for the Church TimesPremier News and UCB. In all those interviews, our point was that though this budget provides some support for those most affected by coronavirus, it has sadly left everything else as it was. It certainly hasn’t remembered the poor.

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