The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 24 March 2012

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In the Budget, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, raised the threshold for workers to start paying income tax at standard rate to £9,205 and announced a gradual reduction of the rate for those earning more than £150,000 from 50 per cent. He imposed a higher level of stamp duty on houses costing more than £2 million and promised measures to make people pay. Child benefit would be withdrawn from fewer families. Tobacco and drink duties went up by 5 per cent above inflation. Taxpayers will each be sent annual details of the tax they pay and what it is spent on. The Office for Budget Responsibility had raised its expectations for growth in the economy a smidgeon, and the Chancellor expected to eliminate the national deficit by 2016-17. Most of the Budget provisions were made public before he made his Commons speech. A low daily dose of aspirin over a long period was said by researchers to protect against cancer.

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David Cameron, the Prime Minister, proposed private investment in road improvements, with tolls perhaps for new roads. China might buy some roads, commentators suggested. The government is to take over the Royal Mail pension fund, which would ease the way for privatisation, subject to approval by the European Union. A government scheme to underwrite loans for small businesses was joined by four big banks, though HSBC decided to rely on its own funds. The adult minimum wage will rise by 11p an hour to £6.19 from October, but rates for those 20 or under remain the same. Inflation fell to 3.4 per cent from 3.6 per cent (by the CPI) or to 3.7 per cent from 3.9 per cent (by the RPI). Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba collapsed in a game against Tottenham and his heart stopped; the game was abandoned and he remained in intensive care.

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