Newspaper headlines: Tax changes, and the safest way to give birth

On the day that the long-previewed Autumn Statement is to be delivered, the papers give us the final snippets of what may make the chancellor's speech - and mull over the economic health of the country in general.

Image copyright PA

The Financial Times says George Osborne will today "unlock £1bn of support for small businesses and announce measures to help people in to the housing market".

The paper speculates about the "big crowd-pleaser" Mr Osborne is expected to produce in his final budgetary statement before the election.

The FT says one option being considered is making Stamp Duty "more progressive" to ease the bill "for people at the bottom of the ladder" , in the same way it has been reformed in Scotland.

The Treasury will neither confirm nor deny that the proposal will be in the Statement.

The Daily Telegraph focuses on an expected review of how business rates operate.

The paper says the "400-year-old system" is said to be "crippling small firms" and aiding the death of High Street retailers.

The Times highlights the announcement that the government is to move back into direct land purchase and house-building for the first time in 45 years.

The paper says, "ministers aim to accelerate the supply of tailor-made homes for families, pensioners or single people by halving the time from planning to construction".

The Guardian mentions that the chancellor is expected to take urgent action to "clamp down on tax loopholes exploited by technology firms such as Amazon and Google"

The paper says one survey found seven US technology giants paid £54m in corporation tax in the UK on total sales to British customers of £9.6bn.

Such a crackdown would be a "crowd pleaser" for the Daily Mail, whose editorial says HMRC have been "ruthlessly pursuing the little man" but the tax affairs of the multinationals never seem to change, despite various vows.

Image caption Margaret Hodge wants punitive measures against tax lawyers

It says Mr Osborne must "get cracking" to close the loopholes.

Unusually, it has some sympathy for (and gives prominence to) the call from Labour's Margaret Hodge to punish those who advise on how to avoid tax with huge fines.

"We cannot have an industry in this country based solely on ripping off the public purse," Ms Hodge is quoted as saying.

The Daily Express also backs a blitz on loopholes.

In a feature, political commentator Ross Clark says, "Ministers have shown a craven attitude to big business. It only takes a vague threat from a big corporation to leave Britain for the Government to roll over and grant them their every wish.

"Yet the threat to leave Britain is always a ruse, such as when the banks claimed they would leave if they were not allowed to pay fat bonuses to staff. They lost that battle yet they are still in London."


Complex balance

The advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that traditional hospital maternity wards may not be the safest - or best - options for many mothers to have their babies in, makes big headlines.

The Daily Mirror splashes the story across its front page saying the advice is a "dramatic medical switch" from the government's health experts, and most mothers had hitherto thought they and their baby were "in good hands surrounded by doctors".

Image caption This may soon no longer be the norm for pregnant women

NICE - who issue guidelines on most aspects of medicine - say a midwife-led "birthing centre" or a home delivery is better for women not known to be suffering complications as it cuts the risk of potentially dangerous procedures such as delivery by forceps, caesarean section or episiotomy.

The Mirror says, "critics will claim the move towards home births is a cost-saving exercise as cuts hit hospitals hard".

The paper says at present 90% of the 700,000 babies born in England and Wales annually are delivered in hospitals, but the new recommendations could mean 315,000 women switching to midwife units or home births.

The Times, which also leads on the advice, says local health authorities are now being told they should offer all pregnant women the choice of giving birth in hospitals, midwife-led units or at home.

The paper notes that although there is a shortage of midwives, the NICE guidelines are expected to ease pressure on the healthy service, by leading to fewer births that need intense aftercare following procedures.

Joanna Moorhead, writing analysis on the story for the Guardian, says NICE is right to reverse "the great misconception on childbirth".

Moorhead says society "collectively forgot" that "childbirth is not merely a physical experience, but rather an extremely complex balance of the physical, the psychological and the emotional; an event where the sensitive hormone system, which is particularly affected by stress, is absolutely crucial.

"Treating all women, even the low-risk, as though they were a hair's breadth from disaster raised stress levels among women in labour exponentially."


'Sunk any deeper'

The withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan has not staunched the flow of news from that country and the Times runs a story saying "Afghans urge West not to abandon them to Taliban terror".

The paper says a delegation of young Afghans will meet UK government officials on Thursday "to urge Britain not to abandon the country".

The Times notes the meetings come at a time when civilian deaths in the country have increased by 17% at the last count and the figure is still climbing.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Afghan National Army soldiers (seen here on a training exercise) are carrying on the West's war against the Taliban

The Independent's editorial takes up the theme.

"The ugly fact is that, 13 years after American bombs rained down on Kabul and more than 12 years since the Taliban's tactical withdrawal prompted wildly premature talk of victory, their insurgency is stronger than ever, controlling large areas of the south, east and north of the country," it says.

The paper reckons Afghanistan "is at dire risk within a few years of going the way of Iraq".

The Independent says corruption is rife, increased schooling rates may mask the real story of illiterate and unqualified teachers, and "beyond the leafier corners of Kabul, there is little reason to believe that Western ideas about gender equality, civil society and so on have sunk any deeper roots than they did during the Soviet modernisation attempt 35 years ago".

The Daily Telegraph says the former head of the army, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, thinks UK troops left Afghanistan "too soon" and because of "political considerations".

The paper says the general finds it "depressing" that Taliban attackers have managed to breach the defences of Camp Bastion in Helmand province, just weeks after British and US forces left it in the hands of Afghan defenders.

In a BBC interview, Sir Mike said, "caution perhaps would have taken you to being a little longer in that direct combat role but we had political decision making, in both London and Washington particularly, which has led us to where we are."


Ominous

Weather - they say - is the greatest obsession of the British, and it has to be said our press certainly reflects this.

Image copyright Getty Images

You need only look at the front of the Daily Telegraph to read the dread words, "Arctic winds to bring the first blast of Winter".

"Parts of Britain could this week see their coldest night of the year so far, with temperatures plummeting to as low as 23F (-5C) and the first snow of the winter.

"The mild autumn may seem like a distant memory as arctic winds move south across the British Isles," the paper warns, illustrating its story of a weather change which could bring "a dusting" of snow to some areas with pictures of a country road which looks like a ski slope.

The Daily Mirror says there is an "ominous forecast" for the end of the week, but it adds that 2014 is still on course to be the hottest year ever recorded.

With unfailing inevitability, the paper writes, "forecasters are still hedging their bets on whether this year will see a white Christmas with just over three weeks to go until the big day".

Its wintery picture is of Lexie the spaniel, enjoying a race through the ice in the Cairngorms, which already have their usual winter blanket of snow.

The Pennines, North Wales and Scotland could see some white stuff on Wednesday and Thursday, with Exmoor, Dartmoor and The Peak District possibly getting that "dusting" by Friday, the Mirror adds.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Carriageway, heal thyself

The Daily Express, long the British press's weather-watch par excellence, writes that the cold snap will be "a shock to the system".

It is all down to the position of our old friend the jet stream (remember that from last winter) which is in an unusually southerly position.

This could trigger a "very cold" December, with "records being broken", one meteorologist tells the Express.

But the traditional aftermath of a chilly winter, a rash of potholes making Britain's roads look like part of the Sea of Tranquility, might eventually be a thing of the past, the Times explains.

The paper says researchers from three UK universities believe it may be possible to develop roads that "heal themselves" of cracks and fissures.

The idea utilises concrete which is seeded with bacteria which would fill gaps with limestone.

Good news for most, but perhaps not for the manufacturers of road cones!

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