This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his spring budget to the British people. As usual, I wouldn’t have his job for all the tea in China, as it is always an opportunity for everyone to complain, and for very few to congratulate him on a job well done.I’m not an expert on these fiscal matters but to my untrained ear, I would summarise the easy-to-recall items as follows:
- A penny off the price of beer – but not wine
- No increase in petrol prices
- A couple of initiatives to kick-start the house-building industry and to get first-time buyers onto the housing ladder
- An increase in the personal allowance – designed to take more people out of the taxation system altogether
- An initiative to provide support for people paying for childcare
There were, of course, many other announcements in the 2013 Budget. Even before the Chancellor had sat down analysts were presenting their verdicts and the public began identifying every unfairness inherent in the announcement. The penny off beer, ostensibly to support the ailing brewing industry and to give some relief to “working men” was regarded as sending out the wrong message about the perils of drinking, and was seen as grossly unfair by wine drinkers. The support for childcare was regarded as unfair by those who want to stay at home to look after their children. Almost every other measure was slated by one group or another.
Only a few hour later, the media started publishing their “what does it mean to me?” calculators.
and from the BBC:
Watching the television news it struck me that around the country there were very few happy people. Many of those interviewed were making the same general observations, along the lines of “well this does nothing for me. I don’t have any children, I own my house and I’m not a heavy drinker“, or “I’m going to be worse off overall. Yes, he’s given me something with personal allowances, but he’s taken it back through stealth taxes“.
Why is it so hard for us to see the bigger picture? Budgets are not about making everyone better off, but we tend to feel unhappy when that doesn’t happen. When an employer announces that there will be no pay rises this year owing to a tough economic climate, we might grumble and complain briefly but quite quickly realise that it is better for the organisation as a whole. Yes, we have individually worked very hard this year, and yes, we individually deserve more – but looking at the bigger picture we see it makes sense to tighten our belts a little.
I don’t doubt that there are plenty of people who are genuinely worse off after the Budget – but that’s not the point. It isn’t about individuals. It’s not about “me”. It is about the entire economy. And it doesn’t matter whether you agree with his politics or not – his job is to manage the economy, not our personal budgets. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can stop analysing the numbers to death and calculating the impact on us as individuals.