The Chancellor needs to deliver for the growing squeezed middle in his budget - Sarah Todd

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt seems a pleasant enough chap, so it’s hard not to feel slightly sorry for him with today’s task of delivering his Spring budget.

What a poisoned chalice it is, knowing that whatever he does Labour will make mincemeat of it, telling anybody who will listen - or with short memories - that they are the party to trust with the nation’s coffers.

Like many middles in this day and age, the so-called “squeezed middle” is expanding. Of that there can be no doubt.

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With a tax burden at a 70 year high, it’s interesting to think for a moment - any longer is not possible with a brain like this correspondent’s who doesn’t ‘do’ maths - that Mr Hunt not only takes money off our incomes, but there is also a huge raft of indirect taxes through things like fuel and alcohol duty and the VAT added at 20 per cent to so many purchases we make. Oh yes, and of course vehicle tax; he has just taken almost £700 for this motorist’s not so far off 20-year-old car.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. PIC: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA WireChancellor Jeremy Hunt appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. PIC: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. PIC: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

Right through our children’s lives we have - like so many families - had to cough up extortionate amounts. In many ways, it’s only fair as we decided to breed them.

But looking back, has the playing field of our lives been fiscally fair? Thousands and thousands of pounds must have gone to nurseries, then every trip or extra activity at school always required working parents to make an additional payment.

Anyone who steps onto the lifeline treadmill of making a living is always being asked to fork out. Never having managed to raise their heads above the parapet in such huge classes, we ended up paying for tutors to get them through maths exams. And this is in a rural market town, so heaven help those children in cash-strapped inner cities.

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Then university seems like one big licence to print money. Coughing out left, right and centre. Right through coronavirus the Government didn’t help us, making us pay out for accommodation that they were not allowed to live in and lectures that didn’t run.

There is a lot of sympathy for those who have educated their children privately but are not excused from paying into the system. But then, through university, there seems to have been endless new chums who were at the country’s top fee-paying schools, with endless skiing holidays and villas who somehow - because of a super accountant or clever trust fund - seemed to get the maximum maintenance grant. Meanwhile, in the squeezed middle, we just keep tightening our belts, working harder and paying out more.

Gosh, where did that all come from? The mop has been out to sort out our little campsite ready for opening at Easter. Electricity price rises have pretty much sucked the little profit there was out of that.

The modern household seems to take two showers a day (electric) and not be able to survive overnight without plugging in a heater, fridge, television and goodness knows what else.

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Somebody in power - forgive the electricity pun - should have pulled the plug (yes, another one) on the eye-watering profits of more than £1bn a week providers were making last year as real people struggled to heat their homes and pay their bills.

To read that Shell, Equinor, ExxonMobil and BP - some of the UK’s biggest suppliers of gas - made £65bn in net profits in 2023 just doesn’t seem morally right. Not directly comparable, but it’s like learning about some of the eye-watering amounts paid to presenters on the BBC.

Thinking aloud, the term moral compass - or lack of - seems to cover a lot of what is wrong with British politics at the moment.

If our government’s moral compass was set correctly, anything distasteful like the power company profits, or loopholes that allow businesses to go bankrupt then seamlessly flip over into newly named incarnations without so much as a blush about those they owe, should be sorted as simply the right thing to do.

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Same with the joke that getting to see a doctor has become. Add in the care and respect shown to our elderly and vulnerable along with the carers that look after them.

Then there are those who peddle online horrors and never seem to get sorted out. Throw in not pandering to minorities who shout the loudest, judging each case on its merits rather than its potential for poor public relations.

Yes, before he even gets to the money side of things, basic common decency - a moral compass - is the rabbit this chancellor needs to pull out of his hat.

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