Weekly Column

Budgets and Balance Sheets.

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Budgets come and budgets go…….. A bit more tax here, a bit less spending there (or vice versa). I have always found them hard to get excited about. After all, the Nation’s economy is pretty much a ‘zero sum game’. You win some; you lose some. Reducing National Insurance, (which I support- it’s an outdated concept), means that the burden is spread more widely than just the employed- to tax paying pensioners, for example.

I am cross about what looks to be at best a standstill in defence spending. How can it be that at a time like this, with the Middle East  in turmoil, and the first European war in decades, with Russia and China looming up as security threats, we are planning to spend less, not far more, on defence and our armed services. Yet an increase in defence spending would mean cuts elsewhere- in health or education, perhaps.

The least attractive part of the Budget coverage in the media are those pages which try to work out “What the Budget means for you.” A highly paid family with three kids will benefit from the changes to Child Benefit, but the failure to adjust income tax thresholds will mean more pensioners being taxed. There’s a selfishness about it all somehow- I’m happy because he froze duty on my favourite tipples; but disappointed because he did not put the price of your tobacco up. These calculations make the whole thing seem selfish and mean minded.

Probably the silliest thing about a pretty dry Budget Wednesday was when immediately after the Chancellor’s statement the SNP forced a pointless vote (on whether or not the newly announced taxes should be chargeable immediately.) They lost the vote of course but the SNP had correctly calculated that since we had all trooped out into the Voting Lobbies, most people would then head straight off for lunch, thereby leaving Keir Starmer addressing an empty House. Revenge for what he did to them last week. But pretty childish stuff.

Most of life has its upsides and downsides. We are all looking forward to Mother’s Day on Sunday. We celebrate our mothers, give them flowers, recognise the massive amount of hard work they do for us. It also feels like the start of Spring, and I love it for that too. Yet just think of women who can’t have children, or who have tragically lost babies. Think of the Ukrainian or Palestinian women so brutally separated from their sons and daughters. We should spare a thought for the lonely emptiness which may well be felt by some childless women on Mothering Sunday.

Society- and life as a whole- should be mutual… collective. Our aim should not just be to pay back what we owe to our fellow citizens. It’s not just about ‘doing our bit.’ If we all do quite a lot more than we have to; if we pay money or take action not because it benefits ourselves, but because we believe it to be the right thing to do- for our fellow human beings – then their lives, and ours, are enriched and bettered by it.

If we all put more into life than we take out of it, our lives will be longer and happier. Let’s not just balance our budgets. Let’s aim for a surplus in the Balance Sheet of Life.

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James Gray MP
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Published Date
March 8, 2024