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This is what the 2017 Autumn Budget means for women

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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What does the 2017 Autumn Budget mean for you? We asked personal finance expert and founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk, Sarah Pennells, to break it down…

The Autumn Budget promised major help for first time buyers and increases in the personal allowance. But was there much that will leave women better off? 

Stamp duty for first time buyers

The Chancellor’s flagship policy, the abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers on the first £300,000, could – possibly – benefit women more than men. Recent research by the owners of property website Zoopla found that 62% of first time buyers were women, while only 38% were men.

In the budget, the Chancellor said that first time buyers won’t pay stamp duty on the first £300,000 if they buy a property costing up to £500,000. However, cynics (like me!) think that what’s likely to happen is that property prices will edge up to take account of the fact that first time buyers will have a little more to spend. This change won’t apply in Scotland, which has different land tax rules, and will only apply in Wales until April next year. It comes into effect straight away. 

Save as you earn scheme (SAYE)

It’s estimated that two million people save through workplace ‘save as you earn’ schemes. These let you save between £5 and £500 a month, over what is – normally – a three year period. At the end of the three years you get a bonus and can take the money you’ve saved as cash, or use it to buy shares in your employer’s company. If you buy shares, you’ll get them at the price they were at when you started saving into the scheme.

Although these schemes have been very popular with some workers, there’s been a problem for women going on maternity leave, or parents taking parental leave. And that’s the fact that you can only take a temporary break from saving into an SAYE scheme for six months – which is obviously no good if you’re taking a year’s maternity leave.

But the Chancellor has now announced that from April 6th next year, you’ll be able to take a 12 month break if you’re saving in a SAYE scheme. 

Increase in the personal allowance

The personal allowance is the amount of money you can earn without paying tax on it. Increasing it from £11,500 (its current level) to £11,850 in April 2018 won’t just benefit women – or low earners - as everyone will keep more of their income. However, before you get too excited, it’s only going up by inflation!

The rise will mean that women (and men) earning up to just over £227 a week (assuming they earn the same throughout the year) won’t pay any tax from April 2018. However, there are plenty of women who don’t earn enough to benefit from this rise in the personal allowance. 

Rise in National Living Wage

The National Living Wage will rise by 4.4% to £7.83 an hour, up from the current level of £7.50, from 6 April 2018. This will help two million workers and will disproportionately benefit women, as more women are lower paid. 

But, what the Chancellor didn’t shout about is that the National Living Wage won’t rise to £9 until 2022, rather than 2020 – the target set by former Chancellor George Osborne when he announced its introduction.  

Marriage Allowance

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, and one of you is a basic rate taxpayer and the other doesn’t pay tax, the taxpayer can transfer up to 10% of their personal allowance, through something called the Marriage Allowance. It was introduced in April 2015.

It’s not a fortune – in the current tax year it’s worth up to £230, but it’s better than nothing. From today, widows, widowers and those whose civil partner died, will be able to claim this allowance. You can backdate this by up to four years. 

Women in STEM

There are far fewer girls than boys taking A-level STEM subjects, which include science, technology, engineering or maths. Although girls make up almost 40% of those taking maths A-level, it’s estimated that as many as 90% of those taking computing are boys. There will be extra money for schools that encourage additional girls and boys to take A-level maths and the Budget announced that the government will look at ways of making sure that data on what girls and boys study at A-level is more accessible.

I’m not sure whether this will result in a meaningful increase in girls studying STEM subjects at A-level, but hopefully by highlighting the issue it will nudge it higher up the agenda. 

Centenary fund 

In the Budget in March, the Chancellor announced there would be a £5 million fund to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in 1918 (something that only women over 30 who owned or rented their home qualified for). In his latest Budget, there were further details on how that money will be spent. Over £1 million of it will go to fund activities in seven cities with strong connections to the campaign for the women’s right to vote: Bristol, Bolton, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, London and Nottingham.

Some of the rest of the money will be used for a statue of Millicent Fawcett, who campaigned for women’s rights. This was announced in September and was the result of a campaign and petition started by Caroline Criado-Perez, who led the campaign for a woman to be on the £10 note.

It’s a long overdue step to highlight the women who’ve had a huge impact on our social history – and not just for women. 

Images: iStock

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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