I guess we are all shaped by our past. My parents left school at 15 and 14 years old. That decision was not out of choice but of economic necessity although they would probably say that’s just how it was in those days. My mother grew up in a large and close family on a council estate in West London. My father spent much of his childhood between children’s homes.
I was luckier. I arrived at a time when our family was moving slowly but steadily upward on the back of my father’s long hours at a tyre company and later IBM and self-employment. My big break in life came when I won a free place at a grammar school – after that, as they say, I never looked back - I learned about the importance of hard work and opportunity, but also about the real pressures and strains of financial hardship.
So as a Treasury minister I remain determined to do whatever possible to support both opportunity and those who struggle the most financially. We are helping people with the cost of living, and investing in public services like the NHS while getting debt falling – all part of our balanced approach. We are also backing businesses to create good jobs with our modern Industrial Strategy, while ensuring they play by the rules.
That means that real wages will start to rise – which is great news for British families. And thanks to action from this government to help people keep more of what they earn, the lowest earners are already starting to see their pay packets go up by 7% above inflation compared with 2015/16.
And in total, since 2015 the government has cut income tax for 31million people, prevented half a million taxpayers from being dragged into the higher rate of tax, and taken over four million of the lowest paid out of tax altogether.
But we know that we can always do more and we recognise that there is more to do to ensure everyone benefits from our growing economy.
That’s why from early April, people across the UK will see a welcome boost to their finances thanks to increases in the National Living Wage – from £7.50 per hour to £7.83 - and state pension, and further cuts to income tax.
Through the National Living Wage alone, full-time minimum wage workers will now earn £2,000 more than they did when it was introduced in 2016. That will mean a £600 pay increase just in April.
Basic rate taxpayers will pay £1,075 less income tax next year than they did in 2010 thanks to a change to the personal allowance, and pensioners will earn an extra £180 from a full basic State Pension than they did last year.
We’ve also increased the threshold at which people begin to pay back their student loan – to £25,000 – and that figure will continue to rise in line with changes to average earnings, to help those starting out in their careers.
The cost of living is something we’re serious about addressing. And that doesn’t just include wages. We have acted to ensure that people can afford the things they need to pay for.
At the Budget, we froze fuel duty for the eighth year in a row to help with motoring costs – saving the average driver £160 every year.
And we’re focused on providing equal opportunities for all, and we are also spending more than £200million this year to attract the best into teaching.
Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British people, we have now reached a turning point in our recovery, on the threshold of the first sustained fall in our country’s debt levels for 17 years. But we recognise there is more to do to build an economy that works for everyone. So we will continue to press hard on building an economy that enables opportunity and eases the financial pressure on the less well off. That is a critical goal for me at the Treasury.
Mel Stride is chief financial secretary to the Treasury, paymaster general, and the Conservative MP for Central Devon