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Budget reactions: ‘I make that 27p a year between us better-off’

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

The small business owner

“In normal times the risks would be lower”

Lewis English, 34, said that while there was a lot of talk about business in the budget, there was nothing for small companies such as his “that are actually trying to grow and innovate”.

English, who runs a marketing consultancy, was looking for “some kind of help for small businesses looking to grow”, such as additional funding to help take on staff.

“The biggest problem is getting the capital needed to grow quickly. I want to grow, but I don’t want to ruin my business by doing so,” he said. “At the moment, to manage my risk, I hire contractors. To grow my business, I’d like a researcher, but investing £30,000-£35,000 in new staff in an uncertain time feels like too big a risk.”

The new 50% business rates discount for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors won’t help English, who lives in Cambridgeshire and has a three-year-old son. Some of the other measures were very much aimed at big businesses, he added.

The risks for businesses such as his have been exacerbated by the uncertainty about what the future holds due to Covid and Brexit. “In normal times the risks would be lower.”

He had been hoping for some sort of extension of the Kickstart scheme that creates jobs for young people. He said that as an idea, Kickstart “works really well”, but it was the logistics that were the issue. “I’ve been waiting three months to get my advert in the jobcentre to replace my previous kickstarter.”

English said he did not receive any government Covid-related support for his business. “I’ve had more support from online groups like [the] Freelance Heroes [portal] than from the government … All the risks I had yesterday, they are the same risks today.”

The scientist

“I have no job security”

Dr Liz King, a scientist at Keele University working on tropical diseases, was one of many people unhappy about deep cuts to government research spending announced earlier this year. She was pleased to see the chancellor address some of the concerns in the budget, but said there were still a number of uncertainties.

Dr King, whose work involves human infective parasites, said before the budget that the official development assistance (ODA) cuts “have made an already insecure job market even worse. As a scientist working on neglected tropical diseases, which have largely been ignored, it is so disheartening that the government decimated our funding.”

The move was driven by deep cuts to the foreign aid budget – from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% – blamed on the UK’s soaring Covid bill. Rishi Sunak said in his budget speech that the government should be able to restore the 0.7% rate – but some commentators said it would probably not return until 2024-25.

Dr King said she was pleased to see the issue addressed, but that 2024-25 was a long way off, and “that doesn’t help people right now … what are we going to do in the meantime?”

Asked how she was managing financially, Dr King said: “At this stage of my career as a scientist, I am essentially a contractor, and my ability to get research funded or get hired for my next role has become so much more competitive because of these cuts, as well as the huge shift in funding towards Covid projects … I’m engaged and I’m the main breadwinner [but] I have no job security.”

The carer

“I make that 27p a year between us better-off”

Tim Millea, 54, was looking for a big increase in carer’s allowance “to support the silent army of those making it possible for loved ones to stay in their own homes and out of the paid care sector”. He is an unpaid carer to his 83-year-old disabled mother.

Millea said he was “very disappointed” by the budget, adding: “There was nothing for unpaid carers, poor pensioners nor, very surprisingly, any increase in the warm home discount. I thought targeted help with energy bills for the poorest had already been signalled.

“The only mention of anything that will affect us is 3p off a pint of draught beer or cider. My mother and I visit a pub around six times a year for a meal with her old friends. I will have a pint of cider and she will have half a bitter. I make that 27p per year between us better-off – somewhat dwarfed by inflation set to average 4% for the next year or indeed the 40% overnight increase in our energy costs since our failed supplier was taken over by British Gas.”

Millea was a lecturer at the University of Reading until 2004 when he started his own property business in Turkey. This collapsed when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. “I have only managed to find part-time, temporary teaching work at the local university ever since. I now live with my mother to care for her full-time. My mother receives attendance allowance due to her disabilities, and I receive carer’s allowance.”

Carer’s allowance is worth £67.60 a week and paid to someone if they care for someone at least 35 hours a week and they get certain benefits. Millea, who lives near Huddersfield, said that £1.93 an hour or less for caring was “simply unsustainable. The national minimum wage should be the benchmark for the full-time carer’s allowance”.

The HGV driver

“You’d be lucky to get £10 to £12 an hour in Somerset”

Ross Hemsworth is an HGV1 driver and musician, and said that while there was some help for the haulage industry in the budget, there was not a lot for individual drivers like him.

Hemsworth, 64, a married father-of-four, operates as a driver for hire – he has his own limited company which he has had since 2018. Based in Somerset, he has been an HGV1 driver since the early 1990s and wanted more money spent on “levelling up” in the south-west, particularly when it came to public transport.

Asked how he was managing financially, he said: “Scraping by is probably the best term. We’re keeping the bills paid, but we’re not in the position we could be in or should be in.”

Hemsworth said that while there had been reports about the big bonuses that some companies were offering lorry drivers, these were “usually tied into a lot of small print” that did not get reported – for example, an individual might have to work for the company for at least a year or they claw it back, or the bonuses can be withdrawn under various scenarios.

For HGV1 work, “you’d be lucky to get £10 to £12 an hour in Somerset … Most drivers I know down here are taking home, after deductions, £450 to £550 a week, which for many people isn’t enough to live on. This is another reason why drivers are leaving the business.”

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