In the Autumn, the Government took tough decisions to restore stability, grip inflation and reduce debt. Thanks to measures introduced, inflation has started to fall, and economy is bouncing back, with record numbers of employees on the payroll both locally and nationally.
Today, the Chancellor has delivered the next phase of the plan: a Budget for long-term, sustainable economic growth.
For working parents in Norwich, the biggest takeaway from the Spring Budget today is the childcare revolution to expand 30 hours free childcare for children over the age of nine months, alongside boosts to subsidised childcare for parents on Universal Credit including upfront support.
I know from my constituency casework how important the cost of childcare is to parents in our area. For me, this is part of a much bigger picture about helping people come into the plentiful vacancies and jobs that are available in Norwich. So it’s good that the Chancellor announced that the government is significantly expanding the support on offer by providing 30 hours a week of free childcare for 38 weeks a year, for eligible working parents of children aged 9 months to 3 years. This will be rolled out in phases from April 2024 and is in addition to the 30 hours a week already provided for eligible working parents of 3 to 4-year-olds. The government will also provide hundreds of millions of pounds to substantially uplift the hourly funding rate paid to providers to deliver the existing free hours offers, which I know is important to Norwich childcarers. As a result of these reforms, the government is providing free childcare for eligible working parents of children from 9 months until they start school. This will help with the cost of living, support education for the youngest children, and remove one of the biggest barriers to parents working. The government is also launching a new wraparound pathfinder scheme to support the expansion of school-based childcare provision either side of the school day. Support for childcare costs in Universal Credit will be made available upfront and the maximum potential benefit for parents will be increased
I am also really delighted to see other parts of the Budget helping people into employment. My local work, Norwich for Jobs, shows that with the right support people do want to work, even if they may be disabled or have poor health. So I firmly welcome the Chancellor introducing a Universal Support programme in England and Wales to match people with disabilities and long-term sickness with jobs and provide support and training to help them succeed. It is vital to help people to try to work where that is right for them. The Budget takes even more actions to address the leading causes of ill health related inactivity, including tailored employment support in mental health and musculoskeletal health services, and expanding access to digital resources and health checks.
The bold reforms announced today to health and disability benefits will herald the biggest change to the welfare system in the past ten years, to make sure it better meets the needs of disabled people in Norwich and across Great Britain. This includes removing the Work Capability Assessment, meaning most claimants will now have to do one health assessment rather than two. These reforms will support people in Norwich to try work without fear of losing their financial support.
I also welcome the announcement that the Annual Allowance will be increased from £40,000 to £60,000. This will incentivise highly skilled workers to remain in the labour market. As a result of the pensions tax measures announced today, an estimated 80% of NHS doctors will not receive a tax charge with respect to accruals under the 2015 NHS career average scheme. This is an issue that I’ve been working on locally with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital regarding workforce retention.
As part of his theme to boost employment, the Chancellor also announced a new ‘Returnerships’ apprenticeship targeted at the over 50s will refine existing skills programmes to make them more accessible to older workers, giving them the skills and support they need to find a recognisable path back into work.
The Chancellor went on to set out plans to continue to support people with cost-of-living pressures including keeping the Energy Price Guarantee at £2,500 for the next three months and ending the premium that people in Norwich who use a prepayment meter pay, bringing their charges into line with people who pay by direct debit. Taken together with all the government’s efforts to help households with higher costs, these measures bring the total support to an average of £3,300 per household over 2022-23 and 2023-24.
To help household budgets further, the Chancellor also announced that the planned 11 pence rise in fuel duty will be cancelled, maintaining last year’s 5p cut for another twelve months, saving a typical driver in Norwich another £100 on top of the £100 saved so far since last year’s cut.
The generosity of Draught Relief has also been significantly extended from 5% to 9.2%, so that the duty on an average draught pint of beer served in a pub both does not increase from August and will be up to 11 pence lower than the duty in supermarkets. Norwich pubs, important in our community, could raise a glass to that.
Overall, this Budget was all about removing the obstacles that stop businesses investing, tackle the labour shortages that stop them recruiting and breaking down the barriers that stop people working.
You can read more about the measures set out in the Spring Budget today and what it means for you here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-unveils-a-budget-for-growth