Reaction: Budget 2020 should reassure students

Budget 2020, announced almost two weeks ago, arrived at a crucial time. In the grips of a pandemic, coronavirus and medical reorganisation are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Many are hoping that the Conservative government delivers on the promises they made during the election.

So, what exactly does this mean for students?

Like most elements in politics at the moment, the answer is still unclear. But there seems to be a direct message coming from the budget: reassurance.

In a marked departure from the austerity logic which has defined the past ten years in Britain, the most recent budget contains various investments aimed towards rebuilding public services in Britain. The Conservative government has promised to reverse some of the impacts of austerity.

And although we should be careful when believing Conservative claims to end austerity – which they have made for the past three years – this budget is less fiscally stringent than we have seen previously.

With a clear commitment to increasing investment into public services by £100 billion by the end of this parliament, we hope to see investment into the NHS, key infrastructure, and public services.

In the announcement speech on Wednesday 11 March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no hesitation in addressing the elephant in the room: coronavirus.

Sunak indicated that there will be a major short-term push to tide Britain over during this difficult time and hopefully support the struggling economy. His three-pronged approach focuses on:

1. Immediate and short-term NHS support

In January, the government announced an NHS settlement which increased health spending by £33.9 billion per year. The budget introduced a further £6 billion investment into the NHS alongside this.

The government hopes this investment will go towards hiring nurses, building new hospitals, and improving accessibility. It is designed to get the NHS through difficult times.

2. Help people who are struggling with their finances

Sunak also announced a £500 million Hardship Fund, which will be distributed to local authorities.

Statutory sick pay has also been extended, and the budget seems to provide safety nets to those worst affected by the virus.

Some workers in the gig economy, however, have claimed that they are unable to access the hardship fund.

3. Support for businesses affected by coronavirus

There are now dedicated funds and tax breaks for smaller businesses to keep them afloat during economic downturns.

This clear and straightforward approach is designed to calm people’s nerves and get through the worst of the virus to bring back economic stability.

Since the budget was announced, the Chancellor has extended tax relief to some medium-sized entertainment venues.

A hooded demonstrator holds up a placard "NHS - More Funds"
Critics of the Tories have called for more funding throughout the past decade.
Credit: Will Durrant.

The newly appointed Chancellor seems willing to pull out all the stops to deal with the coronavirus.

“Whether its millions of pounds or billions of pounds. Whatever it needs, whatever it costs: we stand behind our NHS,” Sunak told the House of Commons last week.

For students in London, this should be reassuring.

Arguably the government’s track record on following through with its promises isn’t the most reliable. But even in rhetorical terms, the commitment to strong investment and financial relief seems promising.

So, what does all this mean practically? Well, students who work alongside their studies will be looking to access the newly introduced statutory sickness benefits during periods of self isolation. The £500 million Hardship Fund might also cover some additional expenses or potential food shortages.

A long-term strategy?

Although it is clear that short-term measures are important right now, it is also important to note some of the government’s long-term strategies. As Sunak says, Budget 2020 is “a plan for prosperity tomorrow.”

The budget commits to increasing investment into various UK regions. One such measure is to expand 4G coverage to 84% of the UK to encourage economic development everywhere.

This is a bold budget, designed understandably to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus. This is a momentous task.

Initially, it seems considered and generous in its provisions. Only time will tell us whether this budget is big enough to counter the costs incurred by coronavirus.

And for students, this budget provides what it does for the rest of the country: short-term reassurance.

This is also a promising commitment to better funded services, and more capacity with which the country can deal with impending instability.

The ideological switch to investment and development aims to to keep the country afloat. It hopes to prevent panic in investors and citizens alike. This is politically interesting for a government that has for a decade used the logic of austerity to argue that it is simply infeasible to invest in vital state infrastructure.

For more information about how the budget may affect you, check gov.uk.

Featured photo credit: UK Government.


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