Daily Mirror personal finance editor Tricia Phillips posts an open letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond ahead of Wednesday’s Budget speech
Please remember it’s the season of goodwill and time to get into jolly Santa mode and be kind to our readers in your first Autumn Budget.
Don’t be a scrooge and hit them any harder – they are already struggling to make ends meet.
To give you a helping hand I’ve chatted to readers for their worries and wishes from you.
These are the people you should be listening to, the real ones who have to suffer the sweeping cuts and changes to their finances.
I’ve also spoken to debt charities, those on the front line who have to pick up the pieces and help those falling off the financial cliff, to find out their major concerns.
Joanne Elson, OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs the National Debtline, says: “Many households are really struggling at the moment. Between rising prices, slow wage growth and soaring personal debt – it is tough out there.
“We would welcome anything the Chancellor can do to provide some relief for stretched household budgets.”
Jane Clack, a money adviser at PayPlan which offers free help to people struggling with debt, echoes this message.
Jane says: “We would like to see the Chancellor think more about how the Budget can help people who are already struggling to make ends meet and who are getting into debt purely out of necessity, rather than through frivolous spending.
“On average, those of our clients who are renting spend £525 every month on rent, which equals more than half of their total monthly earnings. WE are seeing more and more renters seeking our debt advice.
“And we would like to see better support for those on zero hours contracts, for example to help them get the financial support they need, when they need it most, and quickly. Too many people are finding they are unable to get help as quickly as they need it, pushing them into debt.”
This is the big issue for almost all of the charities who are seeing thousands of people unable to manage and being pushed into debt because the current system simply isn’t working.
Citizens Advice says there are three changes you should make today:
1. Reduce how long people have to wait for their payment. UC is designed to pay people after five to six weeks and this wait risks pushing them into the red. Removing the seven waiting days at the start of the claim would reduce the time people have to struggle for. And ensuring people who need it, get their first payment within two weeks – and not making them pay that back.
2. Ensure people get paid on time. One in five people face a delay, mostly because of problems completing the complex claim. One in ten has been forced to wait longer than 10 weeks – that’s almost three months without any money to pay essential bills. The Government’s current support to help people adapt to UC doesn’t include help completing a claim.
3. Improve incentives to work. Cost cutting measures have reduced UC’s original work incentives. Making every hour of work pay used to be its driving principle, but now groups such as lone parents are likely to be worse off compared to the old benefits system.
How about investing in work allowances or reducing the taper rate to ensure people keep more of what they earn to encourage them to work longer hours and gradually get off benefits all together.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: “With thousands of people a month now applying for Universal Credit it’s vital the Chancellor takes action to ensure they benefit doesn’t risk pushing them into debt.
“The principles behind Universal Credit are sound, but over the years cuts to the benefit have worn away the incentives for people to increase how much they work.”
An estimated 8.8million people use credit to pay for everyday household bills. Of these 1.1million are forced to use high cost credit such as payday loans, doorstep loans and rent-to-own stores.
StepChange Debt Charity, who carried out the research, says the Chancellor needs to urgently review the need to offer alternative to high cost credit.
It recommends you widen the remit of the surviving element of the Social Fund, Budgeting Loans, to include shorter-term emergency loans for essentials for all those on low incomes (rather than just those on means-tested benefits).
Also, how about following Australia’s lead with a no-interest loans scheme. The Aussie one helps over 100,000 a year.
This has been introduced in Tenbury, funded through voluntary donations and the local council, and expanded to nearby Ludlow. A small scale operation but shows how this scheme could work nationally.
Recent research from Citizens Advice revealed that credit card firms were pushing credit on to people who can’t afford to pay it back. Six million had their credit limit increased last year, without them asking for it.
This needs to be stopped. You have the power to ban unsolicited increases to credit limits, so people are not put at risk of ending up in spiralling debt they cannot afford.
Everyone I spoke to said that pay simply isn’t keeping up with the cost of living for those who aren’t top bosses, earning fat wage packets.
If you really want to make work pay and you want more people to earn their living rather than having to rely on top up benefits then you need to set the National Minimum Wage at a level that reflect the rising cost of living – and really is sufficient for people to live off.
Hard-pressed families can’t afford any more increases in Insurance Premium Tax. It has already doubled from 6% to 12% in the past two years. This is a ridiculous raid on those who are being responsible by abiding by the law with car insurance and taking extra care with their health and belongings by having cover to fall back on.
I said these three vital words to you in March but maybe you were too busy to take them in as it was your first Budget. So, I thought I’d highlight them again – No More Changes .
Things have become way beyond complicated in the world of pensions with far too many changes already. People need time to get to grips with how things work now before they can take in anything else.
Constant tinkering will do nothing to encourage people to save. Automatic enrolment has been brilliant at getting more people, especially younger ones, to start putting something away for their older age. That helps to take a huge burden off the state.
So don’t be meddling further by changing the pension tax relief, one of the biggest incentives to encourage people to save.
You really don’t want to stop the momentum of numbers saving or risk people reducing the amount they contribute towards their older age.
Come on Philip, do the decent thing. It’s the perfect time to be nice and not slap any naughty financial shocks on hard-working people simply trying to keep their heads above water.
Source : http://www.mirror.co.uk