Chancellor George Osbourne’s March 2016 Budget speech delivered a bit of a mixed bag for the UK public when it was delivered on Wednesday. While attempting to steer clear of party politics (and that can be difficult), it’s pretty much universally accepted that this year’s budget delivered good news for small business owners and the middle classes/high earners with generous tax cuts; and terrible news for people with disabilities with drastic cuts to personal independence payments (PIP).
The Guardian reported that upwards of 400,000 people face “devastating” cuts from an enhanced payment of £82 to the standard rate of £55. Another 200,000 are expected to lose access to the payment altogether. With 600,000+ vulnerable people hit hard in the pocket, you would think this would be big news across the mainstream media and social networks and we’ve certainly seen some high profile influencers making noise about the issue on social media.
However, when compared to other news stories coming out of the budget, the PIP cuts barely scrapped a mention. Some might suggest that the chancellor buried this rather bleak news under a ton of sugar with widespread media coverage of the so-called “sugar tax” (although Lifetime ISAs and the Tampon Tax also took a huge share of the social web’s reaction to the budget –see chart below).
The sugar tax, campaigned for and popularised by TV chef Jamie Oliver, certainly sweetened the news coverage of the budget for Osbourne, detracting from the PIP cuts and making the biggest impact on the front pages of the UK press the following day with The Independent, The Times, The Financial Times, The Metro and The Sun all leading on the story.
But how big a story is The Sugar Tax really when according to industry reports, nearly half the population prefer diet or low sugar drinks (unaffected by the new taxes)? Then we have to ask ourselves, will a 6 to 8 pence price increase on a standard 330ml can of “full-fat” cola really make such an impact on the lives of these who prefer a sugar hit?
No sugar for Brexit
The almost blanket coverage of the sugar tax perhaps demonstrates the political allegiance the majority of the press still have to The Conservatives. Although, much to David Cameron and George Osbourne’s distaste, this support doesn’t carry weight when it comes to issues like Brexit where the right-leaning media clearly has its own agenda.
However, the sugar tax didn’t win all of the headlines. The Express focused on the Chancellor using his Budget speech to “scare” voters about the prospect of Britain quitting the EU, The Guardian focused on a looming £56bn “black hole” in the Government’s finances and The Daily Mirror quoted Jeremy Corbyn as saying the Budget was “built on failure” and slamming disability cuts.
The New Day, Britain’s newest newspaper lead, as it typically does, with a non-time sensitive feature.
Meanwhile, The Daily Star kept its gaze firmly in the gutter, ignoring both the sugar tax and PIP cuts and instead choosing to focus on Home Secretary (and the UK’s most senior female politician) Theresa May’s cleavage. Stay Classy Daily Star.
The reason for this is probably due to Osbourne burying the issue under something more “popular” – the sugar tax (which alongside the Tampon tax and Lifetime ISAs generated the most “buzz”.