Budget 2017: Tories to address anger over inequality after seven years of austerity and cuts

Joe Watts

Chancellor Philip Hammond will attempt to tackle rising public anger over years of austerity and tightening living standards in his critical Budget statement .

Facing a darkening economic outlook and the threat of a resurgent Labour party, Mr Hammond will commit billions of pounds to schools, housing, boosting the tech industry and easing pressure on welfare claimants.

He will also try to see off a push from Conservative eurosceptics determined to force him out of the Treasury over his approach to Brexit which they see as too negative.

The statement is a critical juncture for Theresa May’s Government, with her entire administration vulnerable to a simmering Tory rebellion if the Budget unravels.

Addressing the Commons Mr Hammond will seek to show that the Government has listened to growing resentment of the austerity embraced so tightly by his party for the last seven years.

While still promising a “balanced approach”, Mr Hammond will try for the first time to nudge Conservative rhetoric away from strict deficit reduction and towards targeted public spending.

Instead his speech will focus on “investing for the long term, while supporting families across the country today”.

He will say: “We must invest to secure a bright future for Britain, and at this Budget that is what we choose to do.”

It comes following an election in which anger at years of swingeing cuts, low pay and a lack of affordable housing weighed heavily on voters, with young people in particular abandoning the Tories in droves for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

In response Mr Hammond is expected to announce some £5bn to boost housebuilding to 300,000 a year and to help young people buy their own homes, with intense speculation that stamp duty could also be cut.

There will be moves to unlock new funds so that the country can capitalise on a “technological revolution” to boost the economy as it leaves the EU.

Changes are also expected to the universal credit that will aim to ensure claimants are not left waiting too long for money, with charities and campaigners attacking the new benefit amid stories of people waiting months without money.

Mr Hammond will also announce education investment including £177m to promote maths skills, including a plan to channel £600 to schools for every new student who takes a maths A-level, and £42m under a scheme that will see every teacher in select schools receive £1,000 worth of training.

He will say: “In this Budget, we express our resolve to look forwards, to embrace change, to meet our challenges head on, and to seize the opportunities for Britain.

“Because for the first time in decades, Britain is genuinely at the forefront of a technological revolution, not just in our universities and research institutes, but this time in the commercial development labs of our great companies and on the factory floors and business parks across the land.”

Brexit backing Tories have been frustrated by what they see as Mr Hammond’s failure to talk about the positives of Brexit, to the extent that many have called for his head.

With his future at the Treasury dependent on the Budget landing well, he will attempt to head off attacks from eurosceptics by painting a more optimistic picture of the UK’s post-Brexit future.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are believed to have been critical of Mr Hammond’s approach to Brexit (Getty)

The Chancellor will set out his vision for “Global Britain”, saying it will be, “a prosperous and inclusive economy where everybody has the opportunity to shine wherever in the UK they live, whatever their background”.

“An outward looking, free-trading nation, a force for good in the world, a country fit for the future,” he will add.

But the glossy sheen on his statement will be tainted by economic clouds ahead, darkened by surprise figures showing state borrowing jumped to £8bn last month.

The official auditor of government finances, the Office for Budget Responsibility, is also expected to downgrade productivity projections.

At the same time Mr Hammond will have to find money – potentially through some tax rises – for new spending, with his Budget needing the support of every Tory MP to make it through the Commons. One potentially unpopular change is expected to see fuel duty on diesel increase by 1p a litre.

Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson said the best route for the Chancellor would probably be to “do very little and leave himself some room for manoeuvre later on”.

“One the one hand, he is under pressure to cut spending to hit his fiscal targets, on the other he is under pressure to increase spending.

“It’s a genuinely difficult Budget. If he is serious about his fiscal rules, he won’t be able to give in to the pressure for spending. If he gives in to the demands for spending, that’s pretty much a statement that his fiscal rules are out of the window.”

Labour leader Mr Corbyn said it was time for the Government to support business and families by investing more in infrastructure and support for hard-up households.

He said: “The Chancellor must use the Budget to invest in infrastructure to give our economy the boost it so badly needs, invest in our public services and the people who provide them, halt the disastrous rollout of universal credit and begin a major new house-building programme.”

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