Our finances, as a nation and individually, are affected significantly by what is said during an hour in Parliament and what is published immediately afterwards.
The Budget updates us on the financial state of the nation and outlines the government’s plans for tax and spending for the financial year, which starts in April.
Is it gripping? Perhaps not. Is it important? Yes.
So here is your essential guide.
When is the Budget?
The Budget will be delivered on Wednesday 11 March, at or around 12:30 GMT, so straight after Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.
This is actually a Budget that was scheduled for November last year, but was postponed because the general election was called. Usually, we have a Spring Statement at this time of year – basically an update on the numbers – so this has been replaced by the delayed Budget.
The speech usually lasts about an hour, although the longest continuous Budget speech was by William Gladstone in 1853, lasting four hours and 45 minutes.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn then gets the first response before MPs debate the Budget.
Who will deliver the speech?
This is Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first Budget. He has had just four weeks in the job to prepare for arguably the most important day in his calendar, owing to the surprise resignation of his predecessor Sajid Javid.
Before his appointment as Chancellor, Mr Sunak was chief secretary to the Treasury, so he knew his way around the department.
He has been the Conservative MP for Richmond in Yorkshire since 2015. The father-of-two lives in Kirby Sigston, just outside the town of Northallerton.
Before entering politics, he worked for investment bank Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund, then co-founded an investment firm.
The last Budget was delivered in October 2018 by then chancellor Philip Hammond, who is no longer an MP.
Does the Budget affect all parts of the UK?
Policies and plans announced in the Budget will affect all, or parts, of the UK.
Particular attention is expected to be paid this time to policies that are designed to tackle regional inequalities, although the detail is yet to be revealed.
The devolved nations all deliver Budgets too, to allocate spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland has income tax-raising powers, which means its rates differ from the rest of the UK. The Scottish Budget was announced in February.
Wales now has control over some income tax too, but ministers have said they will not diverge from the main UK levels before next year’s Welsh Assembly elections. In Northern Ireland, the Assembly has lesser tax control and is in discussion over how this will be organised.
What should we expect from the chancellor?
The coronavirus outbreak will be impossible to ignore, so the chancellor will undoubtedly say more about the cost to the government of dealing with the consequences of the disease.
- Chancellor must raise taxes in first Budget, says IFS
Minimum wage levels have already been set, with those aged 25 and over getting £8.72 an hour from April. Inheritance tax changes have been happening for some time and are in the pipeline again for 2020-21.
Pretty much everything else is speculation.
…And what shouldn’t we expect?
The Conservative manifesto published during the general election campaign just a few months ago pledged that there will be no increases in income tax, national insurance or VAT.
They could fall, however, and the government has already pledged that in its first Budget (this one), it will say people will be allowed to earn more before they have to pay national insurance.
Given the length of time Mr Sunak has been given to prepare, there are suggestions that any really big policy changes might not happen until the next Budget.
Is this the one that affects the cost of cigarettes and alcohol?
The chancellor sets the so-called “sin taxes” on cigarettes and booze.
So, at the end of Budget day, any change in these duties will come into effect and is likely to have an immediate impact on prices.
The chancellor has special permission to drink alcohol during the speech, although the last one to do so was Kenneth Clarke, who had a whisky.
What about the cost of driving?
About 60% of the price you pay for fuel is tax – a mixture of fuel duty and VAT.
Fuel duty has been frozen for a decade and a group of Conservative MPs have warned the chancellor against raising it this time.
When is the next Budget?
Hold on to your hats, as this is the first of two Budgets this year.
The March Budget is the one delayed from last year, and then there will be one in the autumn as normal. Last year was the first since at least 1900 that there was no Budget.
This year also sees the announcement of a full, multi-year Spending Review. This considers the budgets of all the government departments and sets out how taxpayers’ money will be spent, by fixing the maximum amount that they can spend.
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