Budget 2021: 'I'm finding it hard to celebrate'

By Lucy Hooker & Rebecca Wearn
BBC Business

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image copyrightEster de Roij
image captionFreelance camerawoman Ester de Roij says she is relieved to be receiving more help but knows many others aren't

Across the UK a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief when Rishi Sunak announced his Budget on Wednesday.

Furlough was extended. There was more money for businesses scrambling to stay afloat. And for people relying on universal credit, the extra £20 added last year will stay for now.

But for people like freelance camerawoman Ester de Roij the chancellor's announcements prompted mixed emotions.

"I'm in limbo. I feel I should celebrating but I'm finding it hard to," she says.

'It feels bittersweet'

This time last year Ester wasn't eligible for a self-employed income support grant because she had only just started her business.

She is now, following the Budget, finally able to claim some support.

But she's "absolutely furious" that so many others are still falling through the net.

She was also relieved to hear from Rishi Sunak that the Universal Credit top-up would stay for another six months.

"It's welcome news that it wasn't taken away. Without that £20 I wouldn't be able to cover my rent. It's the difference between a roof over my head and not," she says.

But it feels like "the bare minimum" you could expect, not as much as she would have hoped for, she says, "quite bittersweet".

'Furlough is a godsend'

image copyrightAlan McEwan
image captionAlan and Becky McEwan are grateful for the extension to furlough

For Alan and Becky McEwan on the other hand the Budget news was "a massive relief".

Becky runs a cake company, which is going well, but Alan manages a restaurant in Stirling and has been on furlough for much of last year.

"The 80% furlough has been a godsend for us," says Alan. "What the government has done for us, we're really grateful for it."

He's had to shield while he waited for a cancerous tumour to be removed in January, then picked up Covid while in hospital undergoing treatment.

Alan loves working in hospitality, and he hopes to be back by the time the restaurant reopens, but it's a huge help knowing that furlough has been extended until September in case he still isn't strong enough, or if the roadmap out of lockdown is delayed.

"It takes the worry off doesn't it? It's a massive strain off our shoulders."

'I'm wondering what might be available when'

image copyrightOliver Holt
image captionOliver Holt is hoping Rishi Sunak's drive for more apprenticeships will benefit him

Oliver Holt in Thornton, Blackpool, hopes what he heard in the Budget will be good news for him. The 20-year-old is about to leave college with a level 3 certificate in mechanics and has been applying for apprenticeships, but so far without luck.

Rishi Sunak announced a boost in funding for employers that take on apprentices, raising the support from £2,000 per young person taken on to £3,000.

"It's a great idea," Oliver says. "It should mean you'll see a rise in garages taking on apprentices."

"I'm super-keen, I'm nearly at the end of my course at college and wondering what might be available and when.

"I'm hoping something will come from this. I've applied for so many different ones and every time I've either had an email or they don't get back to me at all.

"I'm finding it really difficult at the moment to be honest."

'It's upsetting we're not being heard'

For Louise King it was a budget of two halves. She owns a hairdressing salon, Wilderness Hair, in Liverpool, that turned to making shampoo when it couldn't open.

"We really welcomed the roadmap out of lockdown, the restart grants for £18,000," she says. And she agrees spending more on apprentices is a good idea, although it only applies to new apprentices and she already has two.

"But what we are really disappointed about is our industry is not getting the VAT cut like the hospitality industry," she says.

Hairdressers had lobbied for the same treatment as bars and restaurants.

"We are still paying the full 20%. It's quite upsetting that our voice is not being heard," Louise says.

"If I'm being honest it's a mixed bag of emotions," she says "There's still a rocky road ahead."

'It could be worse, it could be better'

image copyrightTabi Marsh
image captionTabi Marsh would have liked the chancellor to have given small businesses like hers more breathing space

"Business rates was more of a shocker than we'd expected it to be," says Tabi Marsh, owner of gift shop and cafe Papilio in Thornbury.

Before the Budget the idea of having to pay full business rates again, was making Tabi wonder whether the business would have to close. Then she heard Scotland was extending its business rates holiday for a whole year, and she got her hopes up that the chancellor might do the same for England.

Instead she's got three more months rate-free, then at the start of July has to start paying them again, although at a much reduced rate.

"It's a shame they're not following Scotland's lead," she says.

The extension of furlough is a help and she's expecting a re-opening grant of around £12,000 to help retrain staff and restock the cafe. But she knows it will take some time for trade to return to normal, meanwhile minimum wage rises and Brexit mean costs have gone up.

She's not sure yet whether Rishi Sunak's additional measures will be enough.

"It could be worse, but it could also be a lot better."

"It has bought us the time to get open," she says. "We will be one of the businesses that have to look again in six or nine months to see how quickly trade has rebounded."

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