Belfast Telegraph

Budget an assault on the poorest

By Steven Agnew

George Osbourne's Budget is an assault on many in our society, particularly young people - our future workforce.

I have long campaigned for a living wage, but what Osbourne has announced is an increased minimum wage in fancy new packaging.

In isolation, an increase in the minimum wage will benefit many. However, cuts to key in-work welfare benefits, such as tax credits, will leave people, including those who are working, but in poverty, no better off.

The official living wage is calculated based on the cost of living and, although the Chancellor seized the language of campaigners, the official living wage is now likely to rise to offset the Chancellor's cut to benefits.

So, in reality, the Chancellor's increased minimum wage will fall well short of what's needed to make ends meet.

I am disappointed that those under the age of 25 will be excluded. There should be equal pay for equal work.

Furthermore, those aged between 18 and 21 will face restrictions on claiming housing benefit.

Students have also been targeted, with maintenance grants to be replaced with loans to be repaid once earnings exceed £21,000.

In general, young people didn't vote Tory and, clearly, the Conservatives are responding in kind.

Corporation tax cuts will further reduce the amount of money in the pot. This demonstrates that the real intention behind "reducing the deficit" was to cut public services and social supports, while reducing taxes for business and the rich.

Conservatives plan to raise the inheritance tax threshold for the very wealthy. At the same time, it is predicted that tens of thousands of children could be plunged into poverty due to other budgetary measures.

A higher minimum wage commitment is welcome, but against the backdrop of the attack on welfare, it is clear that Osborne is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

In the context of £4.5bn cuts to tax credits, this policy is clearly not a real living wage; it is a sleight of hand to distract from the corporate tax cuts to the very businesses which have created so much working poverty.

  • Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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