Helen Martin: We’re deluded by the Budget

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IT’S strange how we set such store by government budgets, as if that little red box might one day hold a magic bullet that will sort out all of our problems.

Last week saw division between working mums and non-working mums, which broke out because of the budget boost of £1200 a year to those paying nannies or nurseries an average of £6000 annually to look after their children.

“What about us?” seemed to be the baffling response from non-working mums whose partners earned enough for them to stay at home. What about you? If you’re not paying it out in the first place, you can hardly expect to get £1200 back for simply staying at home with the kids.

The Budget isn’t about sharing out the spoils equally, or even taxing everyone equally. In fact, it’s hard to know what it is about nowadays with the economy in such a tragic state.

Down at household budget level, the problem isn’t necessarily borrowing, deficits, interest rates or loans. It’s simply that everything costs too much, not just more than it should but more than we can possibly go on paying.

Childcare is just one item on that list. Food costs are rising, along with gas, electricity, petrol and diesel, not to mention public transport and all the other essentials, to the extent that in real terms wages are falling. Unemployment overall is still on the up, with 100 Scottish women losing their jobs every day.

The less we can afford to pay for bills, goods and services, the more companies will go out of business, causing more people to lose their jobs so that even fewer of us can afford bills, goods and services.

In theory, in a free market economy, prices should be falling, driven down by what customers can afford to pay. But it’s not working.

Perhaps we want to believe the Budget can make a difference because that delusion is easier than accepting we have an unsustainable model and we’re on the road to total collapse. It might be easier than realising that even if and when big business begins to recover it could take decades, if ever, for significant wage rises so that spending will keep smaller 
businesses going. Perhaps deep down we actually want to believe the Government knows what it’s doing, rather than see them as powerless against
economic meltdown.

Still, it’s nearly Easter . . . a time for miracles.

Hard work pays?

SOME good news comes with the return of apprenticeships and as unemployment among the young at least falls at its fastest clip for 20 years.

A word of caution, though. I know a young man who began an 
apprenticeship, excelled at college and worked diligently for his employer. The boss had an accident and had to downsize the business, so my young friend lost his job. Another firm took him on, but hard times meant redundancies soon after and it was last in, first out.

Still the college plaudits were coming. He was lucky to get taken on again to continue towards his qualification, or so he thought. This employer had a rush job on before Christmas, and wouldn’t honour his promise to let my young friend attend his college days. Just before the holidays the job was finished and he was “let go” – a few weeks after he’d started.

With six months to go to serve his time and gain full qualifications, he found another firm willing to take him on for that long at least. He travels 100 miles round trip every day to and from work. Meantime, despite all the uncertainty, he won a major apprenticeship award.

There are financial incentives for employers to give apprenticeships, but not enough penalties when they let young people down. Let’s hear when the 25,000 apprenticeships a year promised by the Scottish Government are completed, rather than when they start.

Watch it, sweetie

MY delight at Bruntsfield being named one of the best places to live in Scotland in a Sunday paper league table has been slightly dented by another league run by its sister title claiming Stockbridge is the third “coolest” place to live in the UK.

I love Bruntsfield (though for completely different reasons than those given in the league) and I’ve nothing against Stockie, but their constant selection as Edinburgh’s “dynamic duo” does show a certain laziness on the part of London reviewers who let the pin land in the same hole in the map every time.

Nor am I sure about the description of Raeburn Place as “a confection” of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, which suggests someone who has never been there trying to impose southern values, thus making the place less interesting than it is.

In Stockie, you can spend hundreds on a dog collar, find a butcher who sells real mutton, there’s the bookie’s, the laundrette and a zillion charity shops, but you will not find anyone who would describe the street as a
“confection”.