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Plastic Tax, Mental Health, and Everything Else You Need to Know About UK Budget 2018

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty cover everything from education, to healthcare, to the environment. And Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget, announced this week, will impact on several of these issues. Join us by taking action here to support the Global Goals. 

What were you doing on Monday afternoon? Probably glued to your computer screen checking out the latest updates from Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget speech. 

Perhaps not … But the chancellor’s speech did contain a lot that will impact the issues addressed by the UN’s Global Goals — a 17-step roadmap to ending extreme poverty by 2030, that addresses education, health care, reducing inequalities, the environment, and much more. 

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Hammond announced the changes he’s going to be making to the country’s finances in parliament on this week and, as with every budget announcement, there’s quite a bit to be deciphered. 

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It’s also worth noting that, if the UK does leave the EU without a deal, there will be an emergency budget announced before the leave date on March 29. 

So, to make understanding the budget and it’s implications for the issues we care about most that bit easier, here’s a breakdown:

1. Mental Health

It was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier in the year that there would be an extra £20.5 billion for the NHS in England, to be spent over five years. 

Hammond confirmed that about £2 billion of that would go towards mental health. It should be enough for mental health support to be made available in every large A&E department, according to the Guardian

The funding will also reportedly go towards more “mental health ambulances” to treat people who need emergency mental health support; community mental health support services; and crisis teams to work between schools, social services, and young people’s mental health services.

Hammond also announced a 24-hour mental health hotline. 

Some commentators have said that the funding isn’t enough to bring mental health support in line with support for physical health issues. 

“To truly make progress towards parity of esteem the government will need to commit twice as much as they have today,” said Harry Quilter-Pinner, a researcher for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). 

“Without this the NHS will never be truly ‘free and the point of need’ for people experiencing mental ill-health,” he said. 

2. Education

Schools in England will get a one-off £400 million — worth, on average, £10,000 per primary school and £50,000 per secondary school, according to Hammond. 

He said the funding would help schools to buy “that extra bit of kit,” in phrasing that has since proved controversial.  

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the budget would “infuriate school leaders.” 

And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said it “hardly scratches the surface of what is needed.”

“Many schools don’t have enough money to provide a full curriculum or individual support to pupils, let alone provide ‘little extras,’” he told the BBC. “What they desperately need is improved core funding.”

“It is a sign of the government’s priorities that it is spending more on fixing potholes than on fixing the school funding crisis,” he added.

Efforts to fix potholes and repair bridges will be getting £420 million, in comparison. 

The budget also included £10 million for a “regional trial to test how to improve retention of early career maths and physics teachers,” according to the Times Education Supplement (TES), as well as £1.7 million for school programmes to mark 75 years since the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. 

3. Plastic Tax

The government is planning to introduce a new tax on plastic packaging, as part of a series of combined efforts against single-use plastic pollution. 

If plastic packaging doesn’t include at least 30% recycled content, then food and drink companies will be taxed. And it would cover both plastics produced in the UK, as well as imported plastics. 

The tax — the details and timetable of which will be consulted on — isn’t due to come into force until April 2022. 

“Billions of disposable plastic drink cups, cartons, bags, and other items are used every year in Britain,” Hammond said. “Convenient for consumers, but deadly for our wildlife and our oceans.” 

“Where we cannot achieve reuse, we are determined to increase recycling,” he said. 

4. Recycling 

A further £20 million fund was also announced, specifically to boost recycling and combat plastics. 

Of that, £10 million will be used for research and development, and £10 million will go to funding innovative apporoaches for reducing litter. 

However, Hammond stepped back on the “latte levy” — which would attempt to put people off single-use coffee cups by charging extra for them. 

“I have concluded that a tax in isolation would not at this point deliver a decisive shift from disposable to reusable cups,” said Hammond. 

Some commentators have responded by highlighting that the 5p charge on plastic bags has cut usage by 86% since it was introduced. 

While we’re on the environment, a £10 million fund was also introduced to put an end to fly-tipping. 

But environmental campaigners have been calling out the “complete absence of climate change” from the budget. 

“Three weeks since the world’s leading climate scientists said governments have just 12 years to turn the tide on the catastrophic and irreversible consequences of climate change, the chancellor has delivered a budget that reads as though he missed the memo,” said Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven. 

5. Universal Credit 

Universal credit is a system that aims to streamline the British benefits system by merging six different welfare payments into one. 

The system — which began a nationwide rollout in October last year — has previously faced criticism for taking too long to get to families who are in need, with reports saying that families have to wait a minimum for six weeks before their first paycheque. 

To try to relieve problems that have emerged with rollouts of the system, Hammond announced an extra £1 billion for the next five years. The rollout will also reportedly be delayed by nine months.