Poor families face more austerity as benefits freeze continues – business live | Business

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivers his Spring Statement in the House of Commons yesterday

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivers his Spring Statement in the House of Commons yesterday Photograph: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA

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Austerity continues for Britain’s poorest households, as the government refuses to use the improvements in the public finances to help those in greatest need.

That’s according to the Resolution Foundation, which has crunched through yesterday’s UK Spring Statement to uncover the true picture of Britain’s finances.

It says that the decision to continue freezing working-age benefits for another year — effectively a cut in real terms — will cause real hardship.

Resolution has calculated that:

  • The four year freeze on working age benefits is expected to save the government £4.7 billion by the end of 2019-20, including £1.8 billion from the final year of the freeze to be implemented in just three weeks’ time.
  • On average, this policy will leave couples with children in the bottom fifth of the income distribution nearly £900 poorer in 2019-20 than they otherwise would have been, with the poorest single parents losing almost £700.

Chancellor Philip Hammond offered the prospect of ending austerity yesterday. He’s now got a £26bn war chest of ‘fiscal headroom’ set aside for no-deal Brexit costs. He could have used some of it to end the benefits freeze. He didn’t, despite also announcing better borrowing forecasts thanks to stronger tax receipts.

HM Treasury

Borrowing this year will be 1.1% of GDP – £3 billion lower than forecast at the Autumn Budget – @PhilipHammondUK #SpringStatement pic.twitter.com/mnBPnr3Oo3

March 13, 2019

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, says “tough times” remain in the UK:

“While all eyes are rightly on Brexit, yesterday’s Spring Statement gave us an insight into where politics is heading in the years ahead. Despite grim economic forecasts, improved public finances mean the debate will shift from cuts vs investment to how much more we should spend.

“The Chancellor set out the intention yesterday to bring the era of public service austerity to a close and has the fiscal headroom to make that a reality – but held off doing so until the UK’s exit route from the EU becomes clear.

“But tough times and hard choices are here to stay as austerity continues for low and middle income families affected by the £1.8 billion benefit freeze in just three weeks’ time. Even once departmental budgets begin to grow again, pressures will remain given the scale of spending reductions in recent years.”

Also coming up today

Investors will be glued to events in parliament, as MPs debate whether to ask for an extension to Brexit. They’ll vote at 5pm UK time.

Westminster is still reeling from last night’s chaotic scenes, which saw parliament vote to rule out a no-deal departure.

The wheels came flying off the concept of cabinet collective responsibility, as Theresa May found herself facing yet another humiliating defeat.

But yet….Theresa May could now bring her Withdrawal Agreement back to the House a third time (or even fourth?!), after threatening MPs with a long extension to Article 50 otherwise.

Helena Lee

The Guardian: May’s final warning to Tory rebels: back me or lose Brexit #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/e1pQkfuxGt

March 13, 2019

Optimism that the UK will reach a deal, eventually, drove sterling to its highest level in almost two years against the euro, hitting €1.18.

There’s not much in the economic calendar today, apart from new US unemployment and house sales figures.

The agenda

  • 12.30pm GMT: US weekly jobless figures
  • 2pm GMT: US home sales data

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