The Chancellor has delivered his Autumn Budget and so I wanted to share some of the announcements made, which will benefit people right here in Norwich North.
This is an important Budget which looks to the future while supporting businesses and families under pressure now. I know that people in Norwich will welcome additional funds for the NHS, support for small businesses and help for first time buyers. The Budget helps Britain be ready for Brexit, and I welcome it because it takes a balanced approach to the economy which will help bring more jobs and opportunities to Norwich.
I have set out some of the top measures below and aim to explain why they matter to us here in Norwich.
The Government will introduce a new discounted rail card for 26-30 year olds, helping to keep the cost of living down for around 4.5 million more young people.
The card will work on a similar basis to the one for 16-25 year olds, which has existed in one form or another since 1974.
The card will be available to travellers from spring 2018. It is good news for young people in Norwich, where as I know from my work leading the improvements to our regional rail service, rail sustains many jobs and improvements will bring thousands more jobs. This new discounted rail card will help more young people in Norwich to keep more of their hard-earned cash.
The Budget makes available over £15 billion of new financial support for house building over the next five years, bringing total support for housing to at least £44 billion over this period. Combined with existing policies, such as the Help to Buy Equity Loan Scheme, we will see more houses built and more first time buyers owning them.
The Government has abolished Stamp Duty altogether for all first time buyer purchases up to £300,000. The exemption will also be available to properties up to £500,000, but will stop thereafter. This means that young savers in Norwich who have aspirations of buying their first property will not need to save as much as they currently do to afford the associated costs with owning their first home. This is how the Conservatives, with a strong economy, can help young people to get on.
It cannot be right that there are young people in this country looking to buy their first home and we have empty properties scattered around that are otherwise dormant. So, the Chancellor announced that he will be giving local authorities the power to levy a 100% council tax premium on properties that have been left vacant.
The Conservative Government has taken unprecedented action to tackle tax avoidance and evasion including: securing almost £160 billion of tax revenues since 2010, introducing over 100 measures, and making the UK’s tax gap fall to a record low of 6 per cent. Indeed, we've done more than the last Labour government ever did. However, there is more to do. The Chancellor announced that a position paper will be published on the tax challenge posed by the digital economy.
Certain multinational digital companies are able to avoid paying tax by relocating their royalties to jurisdictions where they are not taxed. This is clearly unacceptable and so the Government will apply income tax to royalties relating to UK sales. That means we can use the funds recovered to fund our public services in and around Norwich.
The city’s thriving tech sector received a boost in the Budget with the Chancellor’s announcement of an increase in the National Productivity investment fund to £30 billion, investing in emerging technologies like AI and driverless cars.
Other small businesses are being supported with a further £2.3 billion package on business rates. The Chancellor listened to representations by the CBI and Chambers of Commerce. So, the Government is going to go further in its backing of small business owners in Norwich by backing the Business Rates switch from RPI to CPI in April 2018. These measures will provide local businesses with the support they deserve by saving them approximately 1% on their rates.
Local small firms in Norwich are the lifeblood of the city and support thousands of jobs. The Conservatives back them.
Following the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, the Conservative Government will increase the National Living Wage by 4.4% to £7.83 per hour. The LPC estimate this will benefit over 2 million workers. In total, earnings for a full-time worker on the NMW will have increased by over £2,000 a year since the introduction of the NLW in April 2016.
Crucially, help is also at hand for young people in the workplace in Norwich. The Government has accepted the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission on youth rates. The recommendations include:
• increasing the rate for 21 to 24 year olds by 4.7% from £7.05 to £7.38 per hour
• increasing the rate for 18 to 20 year olds by 5.4% from £5.60 to £5.90 per hour
• increasing the rate for 16 to 17 year olds by 3.7% from £4.05 to £4.20 per hour
• increasing the rate for apprentices by 5.7% from £3.50 to £3.70 per hour
This is the biggest rise in the youth minimum wage in 10 years.
Overall, the rise in the Living Wage and the youth Minimum Wage are very important news for people in Norwich North. It will mean that if you are up to 24 years old and on the minimum wage, the salary you are paid will rise by up to 5.4%. So, as a result of tax cuts and the NLW, someone working full-time on the NLW will take home £3,800 a year more than in 2010.
The government is providing £6.3 billion of new funding for the NHS in England. This is a significant increase to the NHS’s budget and will improve the service that we all receive in A&E, reduce waiting times for treatment after referral, and put the NHS on a stronger, more sustainable footing. The money will be used to ensure that we receive the care we need when we need it. It will also be used to fund the programme of changes to the NHS’s buildings and facilities to make it fit to meet the unprecedented demand on its services.
For us in Norwich, it comes on top of the early action in June by the Conservative Government to invest £1m more in the N&N A&E specifically.
The Chancellor also announced a commitment to funding pay awards for NHS staff on the Agenda for Change contract (such as nurses, midwifes, and paramedics) that are agreed as part of a deal with the unions to improve productivity. Final decisions on the level of NHS pay awards will be subject to the usual independent Pay Review Body process.
The NHS matters to us all in Norwich and so I am glad to see that the Government is taking the step of providing our health service with additional funding to ensure it meets the demands placed upon it. The NHS is seeing more patients and performing more operations and procedures than ever, and this money will support the front line where it is needed.
I have said many times before, the Government will not shy away from the difficult challenges we face and reforming our broken benefits system is one of them. At the heart of the reforms is Universal Credit, which supports those who can work and cares for those who cannot.
Universal Credit is being rolled out in a gradual way that has allowed the Government to continually improve the offer it makes to claimants. It has been listening consistently to people’s concerns and the Chancellor has responded in the Budget with a package of measures costing an additional £1.5 billion, which will mean more people will get more money sooner.
The range of measures include:
• Abolition of waiting days - This measure reduces a claimant’s wait for their first Universal Credit payment by a week and will benefit approximately 750,000 new claimants a year;
• Transition to Universal Credit housing payment - As claimants with housing support transfer to Universal Credit, an additional two weeks of Housing Benefit will continue to be paid. This change will provide, on average, around £233 in additional financial support per household for 2.3 million claimants as Universal Credit is rolled out;
• Making it easier to set up a managed payment to landlord - New guidance will be issued to staff to ensure claimants in the Private Rented Sector who have managed payments to landlords for their legacy Housing Benefit are offered this option when they join Universal Credit; and
• Supporting claimants to progress in work – The Government has allocated £8 million over four years to conduct a suite of tests and trials to support development of the evidence about what works to help people progress in work.
I want to see my most vulnerable constituents protected and I want to see them get on in life. Universal Credit is helping people into work and to stay in work, and the Government is right to continue and improve the reform. Several constituents have written to me on Universal Credit and I am glad to see their concerns have been listened to.