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SPECIAL FEATURE: For richer or poorer

Robyn Hall

March 24, 2015

It is easy to get disillusioned when weighing up pre-election promises: benefits for the rich or poor could hit the squeezed middle, rewards for pensioners could cost younger taxpayers – the list of counter-arguments to each new policy is seemingly never-ending.

Of course one thing we can rely on is that dreaded word – “cuts”. The income tax surplus recorded earlier this year saw some pre-election generosity in the Spring statement, and the deficit has certainly been trimmed down, but it remains likely that the next government will still face some hard choices in terms of public expenditure.

Personal income-tax returns bolstered the budget surplus for the year, with growth in corporation tax and VAT receipts seeing the Office for Budgetary Responsibility’s full-year forecast exceeded. However, this might have more to do with end of year bonuses being filed in January, while the reduction of government borrowing remains slower than forecast.

The property market has also been a key cause for concern as house prices, remortgaging and lending remain slow to pick up, with lending in particular still half the pre-crisis level. General unwillingness to rock the boat before the ballots means that this is unlikely to speed up, doing little for homeowner confidence at the start of the year.

One positive development is the rise in first time buyers, with younger borrowers taking out the highest number of mortgages for seven years. This has been driven by the often-controversial Help to Buy scheme, which despite lulls elsewhere has at least directed focus towards the younger voting demographic.

It is the issue with different demographics and their individual financial statuses that will continue to dominate public conversation before the election. Though first-time buyers and young homeowners have informed much Conservative property policy, their detractors will continue to accuse them of catering to older voters.

Indeed, the grey pound is stronger than ever, with the recent announcement that the government’s pension bond scheme, complete with generous interest rates, is being rolled out for longer. This courting of the older audience may be unpopular with younger voters, but remains in line with the government’s commitment to supporting savers.

What we are now essentially seeing is each party getting their house in order before the election: the continued election campaign for our current government will doubtless continue to support young homeowners but place greater attention on the older, larger voting audience.

This means what is really left to be gleaned from the bounceback from recession is that the road ahead is still a long one, with some serious fiscal constraints in store for everyone.

Regardless of which party you cast your vote for, the UK still has some serious ground to cover in terms of recovering finances, making any policy announcements before then likely to be more of a dull recap than an exciting vision for the future.


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