Budget analysis: The bus shelter Budget

VIEWPOINT by Anne Redston
Professor of Law, King's College London


This is a carefully crafted Budget, raising billions. It partially protects poor households from the impact of the tax changes, but they will still feel the cold winds of VAT increases and changes to benefits.

Personal allowances

The increase in personal tax allowances by £1,000 this year, with the hope of further rises to come, is very welcome.

It is clearly madness to take the wages of the low paid with one hand, pass them through a complex bureaucracy, and return them as benefits with the other.

Higher rate taxpayers will not gain from this allowance, however, as the threshold at which 40% tax becomes payable will be reduced to compensate for the higher personal allowance.

People close to the 40% borderline may be shocked to discover that they have become higher rate taxpayers, with the higher tax offsetting the benefit of the increased allowance.

As time goes on, more and more people will be sucked into the top tax rate.

National insurance

The last government announced a 1% increase in employee and employer contributions.

The new chancellor has moderated the impact on employers, recognising that employer national insurance contributions is a tax on jobs, deterring businesses from taking on employees.

The employee rise remains in place: there is as yet no news on whether there will be any shelter for the low paid from this 1% increase.

Capital gains

The new capital gains tax (CGT) rate is 28%: good news for those worried about a bigger hike.

Wisely, the tax free limit has been held at £10,100. Reducing the limit, as some advocated, would have required many thousands of people to enter the complex world of CGT calculations. Smaller gains thus continue to escape tax altogether.

The lower tax rate compensates, in a crude way, for inflationary gains.

The chancellor rightly ruled out a more sophisticated linking to the Retail Prices Index measure of inflation, on the grounds of complexity. However, this does mean that short-term gains will benefit more than long-term gains.

One of the reasons for the increased rate was to reduce tax avoidance, as higher rate taxpayers seek to rebadge their income as gains.

The difference between the 50% top rate of income tax and the new CGT rate is 22%. Still very attractive, it will barely dent the appetite for tax avoidance.

Corporation tax

It is no surprise that big companies are to pay less tax: this was widely trailed.

More surprising was the reduction in the rate for small companies to 20%, the same as the basic rate of tax: this is a pleasant surprise in a revenue-raising Budget.

Small businesses, too, will largely be unaffected by the reductions in capital allowances, as their total expenditure on assets is likely to be less than the annual ceiling of £25,000 a year.

They will thus continue to get 100% relief for these costs in the year of purchase.

Pensions and pensioners

The commitment to increase pensions by the higher of the earnings, inflation or 2.5% provides some limited protection for pensioners, who will suffer from the increase in VAT.

At the other end of the income scale, the chancellor promised to look again at the fiendishly complicated restriction of higher rate pensions tax relief.

This needs urgent attention, as many businesses are already spending a small fortune on professional advice as they seek to calculate their employees' tax liabilities.

MPs expenses

Among the Budget paperwork is a document reminding us that MPs receive their home-to-work travel tax free, unlike the rest of the population.

If a business pays for an employee's travel to the office, this reimbursement is taxable.

Salt is rubbed in the electorate's already raw wounds by the statement that the government will "continue to reimburse some spouse travel" - also on a tax-free basis.

This Budget would have been a good time to demonstrate that we are all in this together, and put our representatives in the same tax position as everyone else.

MP's expenses are, of course, a detail, perhaps even a distraction from the shocking reality of our accumulated national debt.

This Budget was a realistic attempt to deal with a massive problem. It will be painful, but does provide some limited protection from the tax changes for pensioners and the poor.