Jayne Dowle: A decent pay rise at the top of our Christmas lists

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IF I could write my own wish-list to George Osborne, I would tell him exactly what I want. At the very top is a pay rise. A proper one. Not a minuscule percentage swallowed up immediately by tax and other deductions, but a big hefty increase I could feel where it matters; in my bank balance.

Given that I write for a living and also work for a university, neither of which are industries exactly rolling in cash, the chances of this happening are pretty slim.

However, if the Chancellor can come up with any clever fiscal plans to provide me with a bit extra every month, I’d be very happy.

Disposable income? Something to put away for savings on a regular basis? It’s not much to ask for, but most of us can’t even remember what that feels like.

That’s why the news that it should become easier to transfer a Child Trust fund account into a Junior ISA will be met with nothing much more than a muttered thank-you.

The Autumn Statement is all about the cost of living for me. When the Chancellor is droning on – sorry, outlining his important proposals – this morning, my ears will be pricked for anything which is going to make it easier to manage my family’s finances.

I’m a bit hazy on the inflationary mechanics of this, so bear with me. However, if there is anything he could do to stop my supermarket shop costing the equivalent of a small mortgage every week, I’d be ever so grateful.

The rising cost of food is a major source of serious stress for almost half of us shoppers, according to recent research. Almost a third of people surveyed by Which? said that they were struggling to feed themselves and their families. Like my friend, who works as a secretary and has two children. Two weeks ago she faced a stark choice: the bike her daughter wanted for her ninth birthday, or food on the table. The bike is still in the shop.

This is the daily reality for millions of families. Food prices have risen by more than 12 per cent above inflation over the past six years, but incomes have stalled.

Even for working parents, the expectations of a comfortable life have been severely curtailed.

That’s why we might be forgiven for not exactly whooping with joy at the promise of £50 off our fuel bills. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough and it’s no substitute for long-term and sustained action to curb the profiteering of the energy companies.

It’s the same with the plan to give all infant school pupils in England free school dinners from September, a measure which will cost about £600m a year. Sure, it’s likely to save parents who already pay for school dinners around £400 per annum, but that’s not much comfort to those of us with older children. Or indeed, to those of us without any children at all.

It’s all too much of a cynical PR exercise for my liking. Too much of what we’re promised seems calculated to grab the headlines to put the coalition in a good light. That’s the thing with this Autumn Statement. Indeed, that’s the thing with any economic policy the Chancellor announces. However welcome the news that the income tax personal allowance will rise to £10,000 in April, we can’t help but think that we’re being tricked.

We’ve got ourselves into such a negative frame of mind that we don’t want to celebrate. Yet, step back from it and you can see the bravery of what the government is trying to do. This is serious interventionist stuff.

Raising the personal allowance to such a level should, in theory, give ordinary working people more money to spend.

The problem is that we won’t notice it here and now. It will be at least a full year before we begin to feel any benefit.

By then, prices for the basics, food, petrol, energy, will have risen yet again and that extra cash will be subsumed by the necessities.

That’s what could also scupper the promised benefits from tax-free childcare. It sounds grand, a £550m scheme to deliver up to £1,200 of yearly savings for every child aged under 12.

Unfortunately, as a new report from the IPPR think-tank points out, it does nothing to stop private nurseries ramping up their monthly fees. It’s another (expensive) short-term fix that might not pay dividends.

Finally, I’d ask the Chancellor to have a have a heart. I hope he can find a way to abolish the alcohol duty escalator, which adds inflation plus two per cent to the cost of wines and spirits. If does that, I’ll write him a huge big thank-you letter in January, I promise.