Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Pain for Smokers but Better News for Parents

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Pain for Smokers but Better News for Parents

Article excerpt

Budget 2003GORDON BROWN this afternoon produced a Budget of pain for smokers and drinkers.

He put an extra 8p on a packet of 20 cigarettes and added 1p on a pint of beer and 4p on a bottle of wine.

He had better news for pensioners and for parents - with an immediate start to the Government's longawaited baby bond.

That will give at least u250 and up to u500 for each newborn child, to be held in a savings fund until they reach 18.

The good news, spread wide but thin in a packed Commons, put a brave face on a bleak Budget package. Mr Brown was forced to concede that borrowing this year will climb to u27billion, u3billion more than he forecast only six months ago. And next year will see the figure at u24billion - u5billion more than originally forecast.

The Chancellor was also forced to admit that the growth of Britain's economy this year would be less than he had confidently expected, dipping to two per cent. But, in a massive gamble, he promised that the economy would bounce back to its predicted healthy level next year.

The help for pensioners came as Mr Brown scrapped the rule which compelled old people in hospital for six weeks or longer to see deductions from their pensions. The other aid went to the over-eighties, whose winter fuel allowance increased from u200 to u300.

The moves highlighted Mr Brown's tactics - they cost relatively little and are custom-built to cheer Labour voters with difficult local elections less than a month away. Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the Chancellor of raising taxes, pushing up borrowing and getting his forecasts wrong. He told MPs: "Higher taxes, that's pain today. Higher borrowing, that's more pain tomorrow.

It's the same old story."

Mr Brown is the first Chancellor since 1951 to present a Budget at a time of major conflict. He did not increase the u3billion already set aside for the cost of military action in Iraq. But in another small but Labour-friendly move, he pledged u100 million to the United Nations to help with aid and rebuilding in the country after the conflict is over.

He also paid a notable tribute to Tony Blair, sitting alongside him, praising the Prime Minister for his "strong leadership in a difficult time". …

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