Politics

Jeremy Hunt, here's all the ways your Spring Budget can start to fix our broken country

When the Chancellor unveils his spring budget outlining tax and spending policies for the year he has a chance to make a genuine change. Here's our wishlist

Hunt with Autumn Statement

Jeremy Hunt set to deliver the Spring Statement. Image: Flickr/ HM Treasury

The spring budget presents the Chancellor of the Exchequer with two exciting opportunities. They can drink alcohol at the dispatch box if they choose, and they can reshape the British economy through their policies. In recent years, they have done neither.

Tipping into a recession at the end of 2023, the British economy is in a perilous state, keenly felt by those in poverty. 

Inflation and interest rates remain high; shopping and borrowing is expensive. Housing is scarce, and
public services are on their knees. 

Fundamental change is likely only to come with a new parliament, whether that’s a new party in office, or the same party with a fresh mandate. In the meantime, even long-announced policies are floundering, like the mythical ban on Section 21 evictions. In their place, we’re getting things like a ban on mobile phones in schools. 

Yet, with talk of tax cuts dominating, it’s clear the government believes some can be won over with the chancellor’s spring budget. 

So why not win over those who know all about the country’s social problems? From housing to libraries, and disabilities rights to the loss of cultural venues, we’ve put together a wishlist.

Jeremy Hunt Image: © Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire

Housing and homelessness: new affordable social housing

Homelessness is on the rise in the UK, affecting at least 309,000 people in England. 

More homes are needed, but it’s not as if the solutions are in the works. Between July and September 2023 – the most recently available statistics – just 21,300 dwellings began construction. That’s down 68% on the previous quarter, and 52% on the same quarter of 2022. 

Hunt’s spring budget could commit to funding a new generation of affordable social homes, with rents pegged to local incomes, suggests Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter

“We need 90,000 a year for 10 years to clear the social housing waiting list and end homelessness,” Neate says.   

“We’ve hit shameful record after shameful record: rents are the highest they’ve ever been, rough sleeping is rocketing, and 140,000 children are living in damaging temporary accommodation. It cannot continue like this.” 

Disabilities: long-term funding for disability organisations

Over the past weeks, The Big Issue has reported on what happens when disability meets insecure housing. Disabled people are finding themselves stuck in unsuitable accommodation, facing homelessness. It’s an issue all across the UK. In Scotland, 40,000 disabled people are waiting for social housing. 

Although a long-term solution is likely to be found in the same places as that elusive fix for the housing crisis, the chancellor can improve life by guaranteeing proper funding for disabled people’s organisations, through long-term core unrestricted funding, and by halting public services cuts. 

“Millions of disabled people need a decent standard of social security, education support, work support, and accessible public transport. We already make a huge contribution to our families and communities but could do so much more with the right support,” says Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK

“The chancellor needs to stop threatening further cuts to public services and restore funding so that everyone across the country can benefit from a more accessible system.” 

Local authorities: urgently increase funding

Councils are bearing the brunt of the homelessness crisis, with a wave of bankruptcies and local authorities declaring housing emergencies. As The Big Issue revealed in February, Eastbourne and Medway councils in Kent have asked for millions from government to avoid going bust from the soaring cost of temporary accommodation. 

Under threat of bankruptcy, services are being cut. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, says the sustainability of local government is at stake. Councils must have balanced budgets – a deficit tips them into technical bankruptcy, and so the LGA is calling for funding which reflects current and future demand for services. 

Francesca Albanese, director of policy and social change at Crisis, says: “​​We need the government to provide the necessary funding to help councils cope with rising homelessness, and fund initiatives to increase access to genuinely affordable housing. 

“There are plenty of ways the chancellor could do this, whether providing money for repurposing empty homes or maintaining local housing allowance rates so people can afford their rent. We know what needs to be done to end homelessness, it’s just a matter of deciding to act.” 

Hospitality: cut VAT and alcohol duty

Every week, two grassroots music venues close their doors for good. As readers of The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign will know, this inflicts a toll on communities and makes lives less bright. On a bigger scale, it’s jamming up the pipeline for the UK’s celebrated creative industries. 

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, believes Hunt should cut VAT and reduce the costs of operating in urban areas, as part of a package to safeguard impossible-to-replace cultural assets. 

“A VAT cut to 12.5% in the coming spring budget would provide much-needed financial breathing room, aiding our businesses in weathering these turbulent times. We also must champion independent enterprises and push for a restructuring of business rates, alongside freezing alcohol duty and abolishing the taxi tax,” says Kill.  

Libraries: increase funding and put money into language development

Libraries are so much more than places to get books for free. They provide internet access – crucial for those claiming benefits – and in some cases act as warm spaces where community members can avoid the freezing cold. They generate £3.4 billion a year in value but are being neglected. Hard-up councils have reduced library spending by almost half since 2009/10. 

Libraries are often an easy target for cuts, but save the taxpayer money by improving literacy, wellbeing, employment and digital inclusion, says Isobel Hunter, chief executive of Libraries Connected. Hunter would like to see core funding increased in the spring budget. 

“Beyond core funding, we would love to see a package of support for early speech and language development. When public libraries work together with children, parents, early years settings, schools and health services they can have a transformative impact on children’s lives,” she says. 

Poverty: fund a Ministry of Poverty Prevention 

Short-term thinking hampers the ability of governments to make lasting change. Take the recent wave of council bankruptcies: to balance the books, Birmingham City Council is making over £50 million of cuts to its children’s services and must sell over £1bn in assets. It may keep them afloat in the here and now, but what will the costs of the cuts be in the long term? 

Fixing this thinking requires drastic action from Jeremy Hunt, says Big Issue founder Lord John Bird. 

“Until the chancellor and his colleagues realise we need a radical change in the way the Treasury manages and spends money, the millions of people living in destitution in the UK will never be lifted out of it,” Bird says. “That is why I have been calling for a Ministry of Poverty Prevention to centralise anti-poverty funding, policy making and delivery. It is the only way to make steps to prevent and cure poverty.” 

Employment: stop wasting money on benefits sanctions and help people find good jobs

Investing in jobs can reap rewards, too, helping people back into work. But it’s not just about putting people in any job and calling it a success, it’s about finding suitable employment that will last. Yet benefits sanctions push the jobless towards insecure low-quality roles.  One solution can be found in Big Issue Recruit, which matches job seekers with coaches who find them jobs that stick. 

“In the spring budget, we want to see Jeremy Hunt divert the tens of millions of taxpayers pounds which are currently being wasted on fighting benefits appeals, to invest in scaling up proven solutions to the employment crisis like Big Issue Recruit,” says Katy Wright programme director of Big Issue Recruit. “For every job coach we employ, we can support over 75 people into employment in a year, creating an estimated £1.4m in social value and delivering significant return on investment.” 

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

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