Newspaper headlines: Budget 2015 tax return axe

As the chancellor makes the final preparations for his last Budget speech before the general election, a measure that neither raises nor cuts taxes generates most headlines.

Expectations that George Osborne will announce the end of the self-assessment method of calculating income tax prompt a positive reaction on front pages. The Daily Telegraph foresees the "death of the annual tax return" as a result, saying a single "digital" tax account will "cut unnecessary red tape" for millions of people.

"Those with straightforward tax affairs will have no need to collect receipts and other documents," the paper says. In the Daily Mail's view, it will prevent the usual deadline "panic" on the part of many taxpayers, "allow tax to be paid at any time and... radically simplify the payment of various levies for businesses".

"Officials claim the system will cut the time it takes to complete tax returns from an average of 40 minutes to just 10 minutes a year," it says, explaining that the system will be "automatically updated will information from employers, pension providers or banks".

The Times offers a Budget checklist setting out what else the chancellor is likely to do and "what is at stake", predicting an increase in the National Insurance threshold, new loans for PhD students and further details of business tax reforms. Likewise, the Financial Times rounds up all the expected measures and offers a verdict on each - taking in Mr Osborne's likely political calculations.

As usual, the Sun takes an irreverent look at the speech, offering a "Chancellotto" bingo card for people to tick off key phrases, such as "long-term economic plan" and "worked hard and saved hard", as well as observations such as "Osborne takes a sip of water" and "[shadow chancellor] Ed Balls gets red in the face".

'Lollipops' in the box?

Given the proximity of the election, the Independent is not alone in expecting a "Budget for votes". The paper says Mr Osborne will scrap tax on interest earned on savings in what, it says, "will be seen as another pitch for the votes of the UK's 11 million pensioners, who are much more likely to vote than younger age groups".

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The Financial Times agrees that: "Since the most economically significant Budget of 2015 is likely to take place after the election, whichever party is in power, Mr Osborne's statement will be notable mainly for its political impact." Telegraph cartoonist Adams captures this by picturing the chancellor holding aloft his Budget box while standing atop a soap box.

However, according to one of Mr Osborne's predecessors, Nigel Lawson, "good politics often goes hand in hand with good economics". He writes in the Telegraph that: "Given the welcome improvement in the public finances, which is likely to continue, there is likely to be scope for some reduction in taxation. Certainly, this applies to small but relatively high-profile concessions, known inside the Treasury in my day as 'lollipops'."

While Mr Osborne has promised "no gimmicks", his ideological foes at the Daily Mirror reckon "all he's got in the Red Box" is "the one trick he's been trying to pull off since he came to power... Getting the Tories re-elected". And Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell - anticipating the chancellor cutting inheritance tax - pictures him dressed as pop star Pharrell Williams singing: "Be happy if you're rich and dead."

Whatever the chancellor announces, "it won't count for much" by polling day, according to the Times's Daniel Finkelstein. He writes: "Voters don't pay much heed to political announcements and what they do hear, they often don't believe. Many pre-election Budgets are simply held too late to make any difference. Any boost to income from today's Budget might be felt very faintly in one month's pay, if that."

Eye-catching headlines

  • "Why the long face? Traditional stables can make horses lonely and depressed" - research suggests horses become stressed if unable to see and make contact with others, the Telegraph reports
  • "Drink-drive awareness trainer was three times limit" - but a judge told the woman she could reduce the length of her driving ban by passing one of the courses she used to organise, says the Mirror
  • "Vinyl reckoning: indie labels say majors have ruined Record Store Day" - the Independent says limited releases from mainstream acts are preventing smaller labels from getting records pressed
  • "Zut a law! French say 'non' to slim models" - Models such as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss could be forced off the Paris catwalk if France imposes a proposed "anti-anorexia law", says the Sun

'Craft beer' in, yoghurt drinks out

The periodic changes to the "basket of goods" used by the Office for National Statistics to measure the rate of inflation allows the press to identify signs of the times. And the Telegraph notes that probiotic yoghurt drinks have made way for bodybuilding protein powders. Frozen pizzas have been replaced by chilled alternatives, notes the Mail, while the Guardian says satnavs are out "because so many drivers now navigate using their smartphones", and E-cigarettes are in alongside the tobacco versions.

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Many papers, such as the Times, note how the popularity of craft beer - "Britain now has more breweries per head of population than any other country" - has seen its addition. It prompts Ben McFarland to declare in the Telegraph: "There has never been a better time to be a British beer drinker."

The Financial Times highlights the addition of streaming music services like Spotify, along with online computer games, saying: "The web continues to revolutionise consumer behaviour." And it adds: "The minimalism of the 1990s seems on the wane, with coloured paint replacing white emulsion."

The Daily Mail compares the modern shopping basket with the original version. It prints the 1947 shopping list, which included kippers, unskinned wild rabbit and canned plums, along with candles, a hair mattress and gramophone records.

Noting that liver is back for the first time since 1999, the Daily Express has just one comment: "How offal."

Errors of judgement

Cartoonists enjoy a joke at the expense of three judges dismissed and another who quit after "straying from their legal briefs", as the Mirror describes their viewing pornography on court computers.

Pugh, in the Daily Mail, pictures one justice striding jauntily back in to court, while a barrister asks: "That's six. How many more adjournments with his laptop is he going to have this morning?"

One Times cartoon sees a judge furtively glancing behind him as he logs on to "Rumpy Pumpy of the Bailey", while another - by Peter Brookes - reworks William Hogarth's painting The Bench to place tablet computers showing risque material in the judges' hands. "Objection M'Lewd," reads the Mirror's caption to a photograph of one of the judges, Warren Grant.

Meanwhile Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, looks back at the first days of internet in the workplace to remember that "there was so much you could do on the web that you didn't normally do while you were working (shopping, Friends Reunited); it felt as though it may not work to the old rules".

And she continues: "Judges are notorious for being stuck in the past: for not knowing who the Beatles are, for needing text messages - indeed the existence of mobile phones - explained to them. By this, rosy light, they simply knew not what they did. They were stuck in the mid-90s; they had only just discovered the internet and were pushing at the boundaries of what they could reasonable do with it."

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