This week the Chancellor announced the Autumn 2017 Budget, introducing great measures for Amber Valley. I welcome the fact that unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1975 and that borrowing has fallen by three quarters since 2010. I also welcome the extra £3 billion, on top of the existing £700 million, to be invested in Brexit preparations. This will make sure the country is ready for day one of exit.
Helping more first time buyers onto the property ladder, Stamp Duty will be abolished on homes under £300,000 for first-time buyers and on the first £300,000 for homes worth between £300,000 and £500,000. Additional £15.3 billion support for house building over the next five years includes £1.7 billion to unlock small and strategic sites and £400 million for estate regeneration. I welcome these measures to ensure the Green Belt remains protected, whilst increasing housing demands are met.
Fuel duty will remain frozen for the eighth year in a row, saving drivers £160 a year on average. Duty on beer, wine, cider and spirits will also be frozen, meaning the cost of a typical bottle of wine will be 6p cheaper, helping budgets go further. I welcome these freezes alongside the increased duty on white cider which is a key component of anti-social behaviour.
From April 2018, the National Living Wage will rise by 4.4% to £7.83, with over 2 million people expected to benefit. For a full-time worker, it represents a pay rise of over £600 a year. I also welcome the rise with inflation of the tax-free personal allowance to £11,850 as this will help Amber Valley residents keep more of what they earn. Additionally, discounted rail travel will be extended with a new 26-30 rail card, giving 4.5million more people a third of their rail fares.
I am delighted that households applying for Universal Credit will receive more upfront support. Households who qualify, will be able to access a month’s worth of support within five days, via an interest-free advance. Claimants will be eligible for Universal Credit from the day they apply, rather than after seven days. Housing Benefit will continue to be paid for two weeks after a Universal Credit claim.
In addition, low-income households in areas where private rents have been rising fastest will receive an extra £280 on average in Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. The switch to Universal Credit is a necessary change and is working but I am glad the Government has recognised and addressed the practical difficulties with the system.
I am delighted the Chancellor announced £6.3 billion of new funding for the NHS. This will be used for upgrading NHS buildings and improving care and A&E performance, reducing waiting times for patients and treating more people this winter.
In other news, it has been suggested that the vote on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. That is plain wrong. I nor any other MP believes that animals do not have feelings. There is no argument about the principle. It is self-evident that animals are sentient and UK law already recognises this fact.
A specific amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was not deemed to be right, however the Government will deliver the same result using a different legislative vehicle.
The truth is that the current EU instrument, Article 13, has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law, in practice its effect is unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.
The UK has higher animal standards than any other country in Europe and in the past four months the Government announced a number of progressive measures. I want to see us going even further to improve animal welfare after we leave the EU. I think however that this can best be achieved with separate legislation and not via amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.