- By Kevin Peachey
- Cost of living correspondent
Policies directed at getting people into work, and keeping them there, are central to the Budget – leading to key changes on childcare and pensions.
The continuing strain for households facing soaring prices was also a major factor as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his first Budget speech.
This is how his decisions will affect you and your finances.
Energy bills help extended
Under the Energy Price Guarantee, the government has been limiting energy bills for a typical household to £2,500 a year, plus a £400 winter discount.
The guarantee will continue at the same level until July, by which time the price of energy should have dropped sufficiently for it to become redundant.
That does not mean it is impossible to pay more than £2,500 a year for your gas and electricity – that is the marker for a home using a typical amount of energy. Bills in big, poorly insulated homes would cost more, but less in smaller flats.
Typically, household bills are still double the level they were during the winter of 2021-22. Prepayment meter customers will pay the same rate, but those who pay quarterly by cash or cheque will still pay more.
Critics say the £3bn extra it will cost the government to continue the support would be better spent if targeted at those on lower incomes who really need it, as is the case with cost-of-living payments.
The £400 winter discount will end, with no plans to repeat it next winter.
Energy is regulated separately in Northern Ireland, where bills will be held at £1,950 per year for an average household.
Childcare costs discounted for some
Equivalent funding will be given to the authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The rising cost of childcare has been considered to be a deterrent for some parents to go back to work or work full-time. Yet, there are questions over whether the policy will actually mean parents doing more hours, and whether there are the nursery places available for their children.
As a result, it will be a staged introduction, with 15 free hours of childcare for two-year-olds in April 2024, and in September 2024 for those aged over nine months, then 30 hours for all from September 2025.
In addition, families on universal credit – a benefit paid to those on low incomes who may, or may not, be in work – will receive childcare funding upfront, instead of having to claim it back.
The maximum amount people on universal credit can claim for childcare is also going up to £951 for one child, having been frozen at £646-a-month per child for several years. It will be £1,630 for two children.
There is also funding for before and after-school care for school age children.
Working for longer as pensions change
The tax-free limit for pension savings during a lifetime will be abolished in April. At present, you can save just over £1m before an extra tax charge is levied. The impact will be lots of money being put into pensions by wealthy savers.
The annual allowance will remain in place, but will go up from £40,000 to £60,000, after being frozen for nine years. Those who are already drawing a pension, but want to save more will be able to put in £10,000 a year, up from £4,000.
That is a policy directed primarily at keeping doctors and consultants working in a stretched NHS, instead of retiring early, reducing hours, or turning down overtime for tax reasons.
However, it will also help other wealthy pension savers and public servants who have been in their roles for a long time.
Prices continue to rise, but slower
Rising prices have been immensely difficult for many people to cope with, particularly because they have centred on the essentials of food and energy.
Prices will still rise in the shops, but not as fast as they have been. That is not to say there will not be painful price increases to come. For example, there will be large increases to broadband and mobile bills for millions of people in April, and many homeowners will face higher mortgage demands.
Disposal income per person will fall by 6% this financial year and next, according to the OBR, representing the largest two-year fall in living standards since records began in the 1950s.
That could lead to people dipping into their savings to pay for things.
Disability benefits overhaul
At present, people with disabilities have to fulfil a work capability assessment to test which work-related responsibilities need to be kept to receive benefits in full.
This will be abolished, and benefits entitlement will be separated from an individual’s ability to work, as part of a planned overhaul of the system.
In future there will only be one health and disability assessment – the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) assessment.
Two million jobseekers on universal credit could face more rigorous sanctions, if they do not take work the government considers appropriate.
Fuel duty frozen again
Fuel duty is a tax motorists pay when buying fuels such as petrol and diesel.
A scheduled rise would have led to a 12p per litre rise across petrol and diesel prices, but it has been frozen again. In fact a 5p cut will continue for another year. All of this is likely to cost the Treasury about £6bn.
Cigarettes and alcohol
The duty on alcohol will rise at the start of August, when a new system for calculating taxes on alcohol is introduced. But there will be a better deal for draught beer in pubs. Tobacco duty will increase.
Key decisions made before the Budget
Remember, some of the biggest decisions affecting your finances in April and beyond have already been made.
It was in November’s Autumn Statement that Mr Hunt said benefits and the state pension would rise in April by 10.1% and there will also be further cost-of-living payments delivered in the coming year.
Really importantly, income tax bands – or thresholds – are already frozen until 2028. That means any kind of pay rise could drag you into a higher tax bracket. Even if it does not, it will almost certainly mean a greater proportion of your income is taxed.
You start to pay income tax on annual earnings of more than £12,570, charged at 20%. You then pay tax of 40% on earnings over £50,270 a year, although the bands are different in Scotland.
Another announcement made in the last big statement is that the highest rate of income tax – which is 45% currently on earnings above £150,000 – will be paid on earnings of more than £125,140 from April. That means the highest paid could pay hundreds of pounds more a year in income tax.
It was previously announced that the minimum pay rate for those aged 23 and above – the National Living Wage – will rise to £10.42 in April from £9.50 an hour – a move that affects about two million people. It is employers who must shoulder this cost.
A host of wage disputes in the public sector – such as for teachers and rail workers – are continuing as workers feel their pay has failed to match the rising cost of living.