THE Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced spending in the Budget which includes new money for Universal Credit recipients and for schools recovering from Covid. But charities and faith groups say that it is not enough.
In particular, a Christian Aid spokesperson, Jennifer Larbie, reacted critically to the continuing reduction in overseas aid — not to be restored to its 0.7 per cent of GDP until 2024-25, and then only if the Chancellor judges the economy to be strong enough.
“By eroding the real value of UK aid, this Budget represents a betrayal of the world’s most marginalised people,” Ms Larbie said. “Designating the UK’s vaccine contribution and IMF Special Drawing Rights as contributions to a shrinking aid budget will cut billions from the UK’s effort to tackle poverty. Whether rules allow it or not, other countries aren’t sinking to this kind of creative accounting.”
People “on the brink of famine and humanitarian disaster” needed the aid budget to be restored today, she said.
Introducing his Budget in the Commons on Wednesday, the Chancellor spoke of a better than expected economic performance, which had allowed him to increase spending. The UK economy is now forecast to return to its pre-pandemic levels by next year: annual growth is predicted to be 6.5 per cent in 2021, and another six per cent in 2022.
Every government department would receive a real-terms rise in funding, totalling £150 billion over the course of this Parliament, Mr Sunak told MPs. The public-sector pay freeze would also end next year, and net investment in public services as a share of GDP would, under this Government, be “at the highest sustained level for nearly half a century”.
While the Chancellor resisted pressure from charities and others to restore the £20-a-week cut from Universal Credit (UC), he did reduce the taper rate, which withdraws benefit payments as claimants begin to work more hours.
By December, the rate will fall from 63 per cent to 55 per cent, which means that those claiming UC could keep as much as an extra £1000 of their income a year.
There was also fresh funding for schools’ post-pandemic support, amounting to £2 billion, on top of about £3 billion already announced. The Government will also spend £300 million on parenting programmes, and, by 2024-25, will have increased spending on childcare by £170 million.
This package, however, still falls far short of the £15 billion of extra schools funding estimated as necessary by the Government’s former education-recovery tsar Sir Kevan Collins.
The Children’s Society welcomed the new £500 million announced for childcare and family support, but said that much more was needed, including a network of mental-health hubs for young people, as well as long-term funding for welfare assistance and crisis support to stop families from falling into “desperate situations”.
There was little on offer for those struggling with household finances because of coronavirus. Before the Budget, a coalition of religious leaders, unions, and anti-poverty charities had urged Mr Sunak to bring forward measures to support poorer families, including restoring the £20-a-week UC cut, and interest-free loans for households in personal debt.
Organised by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and the Free Churches’ Joint Public Issues Team, the signatories to an open letter demanding that the Budget include more support for the poor included the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange; the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith; and representatives of the Methodist, Baptist, and United Reformed Churches, well as the Church of Scotland.