From the Mumsnet election to the Gransnet budget?

19 Mar

The 2010 General Election was dubbed the ‘Mumsnet election’, with the future of public services for families high on the agenda, and politicians from across the spectrum keen to engage in webchats on the site.  Fast forward to today’s budget, and the talk is all about pensions and savings rates – predominantly benefiting the older population.

Granted, yesterday’s childcare announcement made some difference to working parents; but there is debate about the extent to which these changes accrue to those most in need.  The decision to enable parents in receipt of the new Universal Credit to claim 85% of their childcare costs is welcome – but does not happen until 2017; the tax free £2000 of childcare costs on offer will benefit higher earners the most.

And who are the savers in Britain?  According to the Resolution Foundation, half of low- and middle- income families have no savings, and two-thirds have less than one month’s income put away to fall back on.  And most of these people have either a frozen pension, or no pension at all.  So it looks like the squeezed middle in the middle of life are not the prime beneficiaries of today’s changes.

Meanwhile, those with more substantial savings (the relatively wealthy, the old) have been thrown bones in terms of enhanced ISAs, and more freedom to draw down or invest pension pots as they choose.  We’d better hope they do so wisely, or any savings to the State may be limited.

In another sign that the lower-income working parents are not George’s Osborne’s target audience, the benefits cap –  unveiled in detail in today’s speech –  does include maternity and paternity and adoption allowances, tax-free childcare costs and Child Benefit, but leaves pension income outside the cap.

The message seems pretty clear:  pensioners’ interests matter, because pensioners vote in large numbers and are well-represented in Parliament. As I’ve noted before, younger people (especially women) are less visible in Westminster, and younger age groups are less likely to vote.

In the run-up to 2010’s election Gordon Brown ran into a little local difficulty when Mumsnetters asked him to name his preferred biscuit.  With the focus of today’s budget on wealthier savers, I’m guessing that Mr Osborne’s favourite is the Hob-nob.

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