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Politics

6 Things You Need To Know About The Budget

What's going to happen and who's it going to cost?

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1. Today's Budget is going to be the last to be held in spring.

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The Budget, one of the big set-piece events of the British parliamentary year, is when the chancellor of the exchequer is given the freedom to set out their spending plans and the issues they want dealt with in the coming year. In reality this means setting out planned tax cuts or increases and spending cuts or increases, while getting the chance to slip out the occasional headline-grabbing policy announcement.

A successfully delivered Budget allows the government to dominate the news agenda for days and change how the country operates. An unsuccessful one means endless arguments about the tax rates on Cornish pasties.

But they can also be a lot more damaging than that. A year ago, in what turned out to be his final Budget, George Osborne ignited a row over disability benefit cuts that led to the resignation of a cabinet minister and began the Cameron government's long slide towards defeat in the Brexit vote.

Confusingly, it's only a little over three months since the current chancellor, Philip Hammond, stood at the despatch box to deliver the government's Autumn Statement, essentially a mini Budget. Even more confusingly, this year's Budget will be the last to take place in spring. Instead, Hammond has announced a break with tradition and said all future Budgets will take place in the autumn.

And just to confuse matters further still, this means the Autumn Statement will be abolished.

This will make things much simpler in the the long run, but it does mean we're halfway through a transition period featuring two Budgets in a year. Which is great news if you like Budgets, but bad if you're trying to understand what's happening.

2. The chancellor won't have a lot of room for making big financial decisions.

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Budget day is also when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility releases its economic forecasts, giving us an idea of where the country's economy is heading.

What we know is that, so far, the UK economy has outperformed expectations since the UK voted to leave the European Union, meaning the overall state of the national finances is likely to be better than previously predicted – with public borrowing likely to be £12 billion less than feared.

But predicting what happens after Article 50 is invoked is almost impossible. The chancellor has repeatedly said he won't be spending lots of money, so expect some additional spending, balanced with cuts elsewhere and perhaps some small tax rises. Hammond won't want to overspend, and he's also talking about setting aside £60 billion to help cushion any economic downturn.

3. Expect austerity to continue – but there could be some tax changes.

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Hammond is no longer prioritising deficit reduction at all costs. But that doesn't mean austerity is at an end. Some budgets – such as pensions, schools, and the NHS – are protected, but many others will continue to be hit.

In short, he's not going to start spending just because he has the ability to do so.

"It's not money in the wallet, because we are borrowing a huge amount of money," Hammond told the BBC.

There are likely to be further tax increases on cigarettes, while the self-employed could see some increases in their tax bill. The chancellor has already made it clear he'll find some money to reduce planned rises in business rates – the tax paid by companies on commercial property.

The substantial increase in the number of self-employed workers – in both high- and low-paid jobs – also means Hammond could increase tax on their income.

4. There'll be some extra funding for social care services, in a bid to reduce the burden on the NHS.

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The lack of funding for social care has become a growing crisis, with hospitals unable to discharge patients as there is not appropriate care available for them in the community. This function was traditionally provided by local councils, who are struggling thanks to years of spending cuts and an increasingly elderly population.

The British Medical Association has said £10 billion is needed to fix the problem, while the chancellor's aides are discussing a figure of around £1.3 billion.

Hammond has said there is not unlimited money to fix the system, but there will be some to deal with "with short-term disparities between areas that are coping well at present and areas that struggling". These could include Surrey council, where the Conservative leader was caught allegedly discussing a deal he had struck with the chancellor's team.

5. There'll be extra spending on education – well, a certain sort of education.

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Some Budget announcements are pre-briefed in advance, in the hope of boosting media coverage. One of them is the extra funding Hammond will announce for education: There's £200 million to refurbish existing schools, plus £320 million to open new free schools.

Crucially, some of this second pot of money could be used to open new selective grammar schools – or expand existing ones. At the moment there is a blanket ban on expanding grammar schools, but prime minister Theresa May has pledged to change this law during this parliament, enabling the expansion to take place. It's a push to implement one of her key domestic policies, even while Brexit is dominating the government's agenda.

In addition there'll be the introduction of "T-Levels" to replace most existing technical qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds.

6. Expect some Budget giveaways – but not many.

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Chancellors love to announce extra funding at Budget time – but Hammond and May have little room for extra spending. There will be £20 million for a new war memorial commemorating D-Day, in addition to £500 million for research into new technology such as 5G mobile phone connections and a crackdown on subscriptions such as Amazon that are hard to cancel.

But Hammond has already said this Budget is about having "enough gas in the tank" ahead of Brexit. So don't expect too much.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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