A quiet few days away from Parliament has been very welcome after the torrid events of the last month and it was great to get into the garden with an early taste of Summer, although sadly not one that will last. It stayed fine, however, for the Palm Sunday procession into our local church and reports suggest it will be dry, if chilly, for our two big local events this weekend; the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, now in its 69th year and considered to be one of the toughest open-to-all endurance events in the world, and the Marlborough Passion Play on Easter Saturday which promises to be an amazing and moving spectacle that will showcase the incredible optimism and joy of the Easter story.
People doing their annual budgets at the start of the new tax year will hopefully have noticed the latest tax changes coming into effect this month which mean that the personal allowance for those earning less than £100,000 will rise to £11,500 – a 70 per cent increase since 2010 and one that means more than a million people on low pay have stopped paying tax altogether. It’s worth checking your April payslip to see the difference – I was amused when one of my advice surgery visitors said she had noticed the extra money but just thought her employer had made a mistake and didn’t want to report it in case the money was taken back! I was happy to assure her that it was hers to keep and part of a long term plan to make sure people pay a fair level of tax but get to keep more of their hard-earned money.
This month also sees an increase in the important National Living Wage to £7.50 per hour, meaning people on low pay have seen an annual pay rise of £1,400 since the introduction of NLW last April. For those with children there is more help ahead later this month with the launch of Tax Free Childcare which will save working parents up to £2,000 per year for each child under 12. There will also be a series of welfare changes such as boosting income for those on Universal Credit, helping more disabled people back into work and ending housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds who can safely live at home. This is all part of an unprecedented package to support people in work and reform the £90 billion working age welfare budget to ensure it provides support to those who need it, but is fair to those who pay for it.