On Wednesday the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his Spring Budget, setting out the next stage of the Government’s plan to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt.
The budget focused on four main themes: Education, Employment, Enterprise and Everywhere.
Firstly, Education – The headline announcement was the largest ever increase in childcare support which will see the 30 hours free childcare provision extended to working families with children between 9 months and 4 years. This is expected to save full-time working parents £6,500 per year and crucially support working parents back into the labour market. Having hosted a Ministerial visit and roundtable with local operators we are proud to continue to shape this important announcement.
There was also welcome additional support for foster parents who play such a crucial role in our society and a change to provide upfront support for childcare costs for working parents on Universal Credit.
Secondly, Employment – Despite the challenging economic headwinds, the UK maintains record employment. To help address skills shortages in key sectors, additional support is being made available for older workers seeking a career change, £406m of new support for those in work with deteriorating health (helping tackle the 300,000 who drop out of work annually through poor health) and as the former Disabilities Minister I very much welcome the new Universal Support programme will help disabled people & those with long-term help conditions to find jobs & stay in work.
We have also made changes to the pension limits, which had created tax cliff edges forcing many people into early retirement. This was a particular problem in the NHS for doctors, so this will help on our commitment to continue to increase doctors as we continue to clear the Covid backlogs. Many local GPs had raised this issue with me, so I know this will be a direct benefit to Swindon’s future provision.
Thirdly, Enterprise – To boost growth we have set aside £25bn of tax incentives to support investment in the UK, creating new, high skilled, high paid jobs. I also welcome the raft of support around science and research, again putting the UK at the forefront of new and emerging growth opportunities. There is further support and commitments around UK Energy production, making sure we are no longer vulnerable global energy price spikes.
Fourthly, Everywhere – As part of the levelling up agenda, we continue to make sure all regions of the UK benefit from growth, not just London. The first announcement was the very welcome news that the Energy Support scheme would be extended a further 3 months at which point thankfully bills are expected to fall anyway - this will be worth £160 for a typical household. For motorists and social drinkers, fuel and draught beer duties have been frozen again. I also welcome the £5bn extra investment in Defence and National Security over the next 2 years, with all eyes on Ukraine this is a much-needed boost.
Finally, I was also very pleased to see a £63m package of support for leisure centres with swimming pools to assist with their exceptionally high energy costs. I have been working closely with Swindon’s operators who helped me share detailed cost analysis with the Ministers – this will safeguard this important part of our local leisure offering.