This afternoon George Osborne will announce the final Budget before the general election. The Chancellor will set out his plans for tax and spending, and a whole raft of measures that will have a direct effect on all of us. Inevitably, some have been announced or leaked in advance. The most eye-catching is the further relaxation of pension rules.
Up to five million existing pensioners will be allowed to swap their fixed annual payments, known as annuities, for a cash lump sum from April 2016. It follows reforms announced last year that allow working people to cash in all or part of their pension when they retire, rather than being forced to buy an annuity as now. As the Chancellor said at the weekend, this is about trusting those people who have worked hard and saved all their lives, and it’s patronising to suggest people might blow the money in one go and then come back for more when they run out of cash. It’s a very welcome move which will benefit many retired people in South Swindon.
One other announcement that’s come ahead of the Budget is the increase in the national minimum wage. The government has said it’s accepting in full the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations. This means an increase of 20p an hour to £6.70 from October. The changes will benefit more than 1.4 million workers. The hourly rate for younger workers will also rise, and for apprentices it will go up by 20% – or 57p – to £3.30 an hour, which is considerably more than the Commission’s recommendation. The main rate is increasing by 3%, which is ten times more than current price rises. Of course we need to do more, but can only do so with a growing economy.
One other welcome announcement this week concerns an issue close to my heart – mental health services for children and young people. I’ve done a great deal of work on this in South Swindon and in Parliament in the last five years, so I’m pleased that the government has agreed to a complete overhaul of the system. It follows a review of services which found that too many young people are not getting the help they need. We now have a five-year plan to improve services, and it’s expected there will be an extra £1.25 billion for mental health services announced today.
Quite often, mental health conditions in children and young people go undiagnosed, untreated or unnoticed – it’s estimated that only about one third actually get help. I’m pleased that the government is taking positive steps to change this, and it’s one of the many welcome measures I hope we’ll see in today’s budget.
(This article was originally posted in the Swindon Advertiser on 17th March 2015)