Five big ideas that WON'T be in the budget
Should Rishi Sunak be more radical? Today's UK budget is one of the most important of the past 100 years. Many believe it is a chance to reset society for generations to come.
This morning will see one of the world’s greatest pieces of political theatre unfold: the annual UK budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, will leave 11 Downing Street at midday, carrying the iconic dark red suitcase that holds all his spending plans for the coming year.
At 12.30, he will stand before the despatch box in the House of Commons. There he will speak for one hour, without breaks or interruptions, laying out his plans. Then he will have to defend them from the questions – some fierce, some friendly – of his fellow MPs.
Although we will not know for sure what is in the budget until Sunak announces it, leaks from the Treasury suggest it will be a cautious affair: it will extend relief programmes for Covid-19 and introduce some minor tax increases.
Some think it is time to be bolder. They argue that the pandemic presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the economy and society.
After the devastation of World War Two, following the Beveridge Report, the government introduced a radical set of new ideas. They built the modern welfare state, founded the National Health Service, and brought key industries into public ownership.
Now, some argue, we should respond to the pandemic in the same way, seizing the chance to change things for the better.
Here are five radical ideas that some experts are suggesting.
Cities without cars. Before the pandemic, around 20% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from road transport. Thanks to home working, with far fewer people driving into offices, this has fallen dramatically. For years, the government has been trying to coax cars out of city centres to reduce congestion and increase air quality: this is a chance to banish cars from cities for good.
Guaranteed jobs. High street shops – especially clothing stores – were struggling long before the pandemic. For many, Covid-19 was the final straw. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left out of work. The government could set up a National Jobs Service that would employ people who are unable to find work anywhere else, at the state’s expense.
Basic income for everyone. Some economists suggest that if the government gave everyone £2,000 a month, with no conditions attached, it would offer them the time and flexibility to contribute in original ways to society and the economy. This is called Universal Basic Income, or UBI.
Zero-carbon buildings. Houses and offices generate almost 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If the government ensured that all new buildings are completely carbon-neutral, it would have a huge impact on climate breakdown.
Tax on robots. Right now, every time a company automates a job, human beings lose their livelihoods. If companies were taxed every time they introduced a robot to do a human’s job, the money could be reinvested in retraining the people it replaced. Automation would then work for low-paid people, not against them.
Should Rishi Sunak be more radical?
Pound for pound
Yes, say some. The pandemic has already transformed the economy. There are fewer people in our city centres, entire industries have been brought to their knees and governments are spending more than they ever have before. We cannot pretend we are still in the old world: we need a budget for the new world, one that harnesses these changes for our benefit.
Not at all, say others. The pandemic is a purely destructive force, not a creative one. The government is already spending too much and needs to be reined in – not encouraged to spend even more. Now is the time to steady the ship: when the crisis is over and the risks are gone, we can start to think about changing our world for the better.
- Think of one question you would like to ask the chancellor if you could be at his press conference this afternoon.
- Is the chancellor right to take a cautious approach, or is now the time to be radical?
- Often the chancellor stays up late the night before budget day, putting the finishing touches on their budget. Write a short story in which a dog eats the vital papers and the chancellor has to explain the situation to the nation.
- You are going to write your own mini-budget. Think of three to five big ideas you would like to announce, and then write a short speech explaining them.
Some People Say...
“Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps.”David Lloyd George (1863 – 1945), Welsh politician
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Most people agree that the chancellor is often in pole position to become prime minister. The chancellor is in the public eye almost as much as the prime minister, giving him or her the chance to raise their profile and boost their popularity with tax cuts and giveaways. Of the last 14 prime ministers, six had previously served as chancellor or shadow chancellor. Some people think Sunak’s budget today is partly about making his bid to succeed Boris Johnson.
- What do we not know?
- There is some debate over whether or not Sunak will get everything he wants out of his budget. Many Conservatives were furious when he announced last year that he would make big cuts in the UK’s foreign aid budget. Yesterday, he fanned the flames with an announcement that Yemen, a country on the verge of severe famine, would receive £80 million less than last year. If Tory MPs rebel on this issue, Sunak might struggle to pass his budget.
- Chancellor of the Exchequer
- The UK government’s most senior finance minister. She or he sets an annual budget that details all of the government’s spending plans for the coming year.
- 11 Downing Street
- The chancellor’s official residence. In fact it is the prime minister who lives in the flat above it, as it is larger than the official one next door at number 10.
- Despatch box
- An ornate wooden box on the floor of the chamber of the House of Commons, where government speakers traditionally stand to make speeches.
- Member of Parliament. This is the name given to representatives elected to the House of Commons in the UK. They are responsible for passing new laws.
- Sometimes insiders pass secret information to journalists, usually in order to test an idea or damage an opponent. These are known as “leaks”.
- Beveridge Report
- The study recommended a welfare state to solve five major social problems: poverty, illness, lack of education, poor living conditions and unemployment.
- Welfare state
- A safety net put in place by the government to ensure that no-one falls into poverty.
- Public ownership
- A situation in which the state, on behalf of the people, owns and operates an industry.
- A project is carbon-neutral if it absorbs, locks in or converts as much carbon dioxide as it emits.