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After all the scrimping, saving up for a rainy day given lots more incentives

THE General Election starts here.

The anticipated rabbit that emerged from the Chancellor's top hat, the savings shake-up, was an unexpected creature but one the Coalition thinks voters will, nonetheless, warm to as they prepare to enter the polling booths months hence.

With interest rates having been at historically low levels for years, George Osborne and his colleagues have been well aware that while mortgage-holders have been benefiting - and through their accessible funds keeping the economy afloat - the poor legion of Britain's savers has been taking quite a hit.

And, of course, among those are many pensioners, whom politicians recognise, because of their inclination to vote, determine pretty much who gets into No 10.

Despite the fact that the over-65s have got off relatively lightly in comparative terms during the age of austerity, they continue to get some goodies like the new super-duper Pension Bond; and they, like others, will benefit from the Isa changes.

It was pointed out that the planned liberalisation of pensions, enabling people to have greater access to the money they have built up, means it will affect those now in their 50s and 60s preparing for retirement; nevertheless, these belong to a key Middle Britain constituency Mr Osborne is keen to curry favour with.

As the Chancellor rattled through his fifth set-piece statement, it looked as if he and his fellow members of the Quad (Cameron, Clegg, and Alexander) that runs the Lib-Con Coalition, had drawn up a list of which sectors of society they had to please.

So the ticked boxes included: first-time buyers with more new-build homes under the Help To Buy scheme; working families with the extension of childcare; the low paid thanks to the increase in the personal tax allowance; motorists with another freeze in fuel duty; pensioners with a new super-duper Bond and freeing up pensions pots; and, of course, the whisky-drinking Scots, who will see 40p or so knocked off the price of a bottle of their favourite tipple.

Mr Osborne also thought he had boxed Labour into a corner with his announcement of a £119.5billion welfare cap. While this excludes the state pension and Jobseeker's Allowance, it pretty much includes everything else.

Labour said it would back the policy in a Commons vote next week but it is clear the Tories, who have already announced they want a further £12bn cut in welfare after the election, would be looking to reduce the cap in their manifesto. The challenge for Labour would be whether they do the same. Sounds like clear blue water.

Yet for all the good economic numbers with another upgrade in growth and falling unemployment, the Government is only halfway through cutting the deficit. There are four more years before the books are balanced and the age of austerity ends. In the meantime, the cuts - another £1bn was absorbed into the headline departmental budgets - go on.

But while the election starts here, there is the little matter of an independence referendum to get through first; whose outcome, of course, will colour what happens in May 2015.

Unusually, there was a special section in the Treasury bible, the Red Book, which pointed out how well Scotland was doing as part of the Union; how North Sea revenues were volatile and continued to fall, how a currency union was off the table, dead and buried, and how 2.3m Scots would benefit from the Coalition's decision to increase the tax-free personal allowance to £10,500.

And the resilient-looking Mr Osborne took time out during his Commons statement to mention how with oil and gas revenues falling, the economy in an independent Scotland would be precarious and, oh, cost every Scot £1000. "Britain is better together," he declared.

The increasingly improving economic numbers on growth, unemployment, employment, inflation and wages will be used time and time again in the coming months by the UK Government to insist that Scotland is much better off with the certainties of the Union than the uncertainties of independence.

But if come the autumn, Scotland's 4m voters shun this message and opt for going it alone, then the mother of all spanners will be thrown into the Whitehall works. Mr Osborne's Budget for 2015 will not so much have to produce a pre-election white rabbit but a whole series of unexpected creatures to deal with the uncertainties of a completely redrawn United Kingdom.

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