Big Eye, March 22, 2016

Chancellor George Osborne announces his summer budget. Photo: PA EMN-150928-134545001
Chancellor George Osborne announces his summer budget. Photo: PA EMN-150928-134545001
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So, the annual financial circus has come and gone and if you ask Joe Public what happened, the only flippin’ thing he’ll have absorbed from the three hours of shouting in Westminster during the Chancellor’s Budget speech was ‘they’re now taxing fizzy drinks’. Well, yes and no!

The initiative, generally accepted as Saint Jamie’s idea, is intended to curb the plague of obesity in this country and judging by the hysterical glee from the anti-sugar brigade it seems his simple tax on sugary drinks is going to make all the difference to thousands of porky teenagers and chubby toddlers waddling down the High Streets. He could be right! We’ll see what happens over the next couple of years as the drinks industry devises various cunning ploys to squeeze a few pence out of their suppliers and a few pence out of the supermarkets to offset the cost of the extra 8p per can tax that will kick off in a couple of years’ time. Time will tell whether this tax on the stupid makes any difference to anybody routinely buying 2 litre bottles of own-brand cola for 50 pence. You can probably guess what this columnist thinks!

The budget wasn’t just about bulging waistlines and rotting teeth ... there were also handouts in the form of increasing personal allowances for those with jobs and whopping financial incentives for minted under 40s to encourage saving for their retirement. All good stuff if you’re one of George Osborne’s favoured few and part of the ‘hard-working families’ so beloved of our PM. But what of the underclasses? What was announced for the invisible millions of elderly, frail, disabled and sick all desperately needing a leg-up and some care and compassion? What has George brought to the table to brighten their days? I’ve had a look and to put it bluntly, ‘sod-all’ seems to sum it up pretty well.

If you’ve got a few bob, it looks like you are likely end up with a bit more to spend on fizzy drink and super-fast railway connections up north and across London. But if you’re one of 600,000 relying on personal independence payments to keep you afloat then, ‘be afraid..be very afraid’. George is preparing to claw back a total of about £4.4 billion from your support payments because (I’m assuming) he imagines you’ve been seen squandering it on skiing holidays and M&S ready meals!

Luckily, you had Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn on hand to take Mr Osborne to task and although he tried his very best to humiliate and embarrass the Chancellor, his piping words were carried aloft by the hooting and guffawing of our much-admired and venerated MPs and lost in the ether. No discussion! No revolt! Just a fairly meek and passive response from the opposition to what sounded to many like a ‘them and us’ budget calculated to encourage all those much-needed voters to crack open the champers and feel that little bit chirpier about life … just in time for the Referendum!