The Autumn Statement was announced by Jeremy Hunt in Parliament on Thursday 17th November. This was Hunt’s first big speech since becoming Chancellor or the Exchequer a few weeks ago. He revealed to the House of Commons that there will be tax rises and spending cuts worth billions of pounds, aimed at mending the nation’s finances. It is hoped that the new plans will restore market confidence shaken by his predecessor’s mini-Budget. He claimed that the mixture of tax rises and spending cuts would be distributed fairly.
What is the Autumn statement?
The March Budget is the government’s main financial plan, where it decides how much money people will be taxed and where that money will be spent. The Autumn Statement is like a second Budget. This is an update half a year later on how things are going. However, that doesn’t mean it is not as important. This year’s Autumn Statement is especially important given the number of changes in government in recent months. The Statement unfortunately comes at a time when the cost of living is rising at its fastest rate for 41 years, meaning that it is going to be a tough winter for many people.
It was expected that the Statement was not going to be one to celebrate, given that the UK is now believed to be in a recession. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts that the UK economy will shrink by 1.4% next year. However, Hunt said that his focus was on stability and ensuring a shallower downturn. The Chancellor outlined his ‘plan for stability’ by announcing deep spending cuts and tax rises in the autumn statement. He said that half of his £55bn plan would come from tax rises, and the rest from spending cuts.
The Chancellor plans to tackle rising prices and restore the UK’s credibility with international markets. He said that it will be a balanced path to stability, with the need to tackle inflation to bring down the cost of living while also supporting the economy on a path to sustainable growth. It will mean further concerns for many, but the Chancellor argued that the most vulnerable in society are being protected. He stated that despite difficult decisions being made, the plan was fair.
What was announced?
The government’s overall strategy appears to assume that, by tightening fiscal policy, monetary policy will not have to tighten as much. The hopeful consequence of which is that interest rates will be lower than they otherwise would have been. This means interest-rate sensitive parts of the economy, the housing sector in particular, are more protected than it would have been.
The following are some of the key measures announced:
- Tax thresholds will be frozen until April 2028, meaning millions will pay more tax as their nominal incomes rise.
- Spending on public services in England will rise more slowly than planned – with some departments facing cuts after the next election.
- The state pensions triple lock will be kept, meaning pensioners will see a 10.1% rise in weekly payments.
- The household energy price cap per unit of gas and electricity has been extended for one year beyond April but made less generous, with typical bills then being £3000 a year instead of £2500.
- There will be additional cost-of-living payments for the ‘most vulnerable’, with £900 for those on benefits, and £300 for pensioners.
- The top 45% additional rate of income tax will be paid on earnings over £125 140 instead of £150 000.
- The UK minimum wage (or ‘National Living Wage’ as the government calls it) for people over 23 will increase from £9.50 to £10.42 per hour.
- The windfall tax on oil and gas firms will increase from 25% to 35%, raising £55bn over the period from now until 2028.
The public finances
A key feature of the Autumn Statement was the Chancellor’s attempt to tackle the deteriorating public finances and to reduce the public-sector deficit and debt. The following three charts are based on data from the OBR (see data links below). They all show data for financial years beginning in the year shown. They all include OBR forecasts up to 2025/26, with the forecasts being based on the measures announced in the Autumn Statement.
Figure 1 shows public-sector current expenditure and receipts and the balance between them, giving the current deficit (or surplus), shown by the green bars. Current expenditure excludes capital expenditure on things such as hospitals, schools and roads. Since 1973, there has been a current deficit in most years. However, the deficit of 11.5% of GDP in 2020/21 was exceptional given government support measures for households and business during the pandemic. The deficit fell to 3.3% in 2021/22, but is forecast to grow to 4.6% in 2022/23 thanks to government subsidies to energy suppliers to allow energy prices to be capped. (Click here for a PowerPoint of this chart.)
Figure 2 shows public-sector expenditure (current plus capital) from 1950. You can see the spike after the financial crisis of 2007–8 when the government introduced various measures to support the banking system. You can also see the bigger spike in 2020/21 when pandemic support measures saw government expenditure rise to a record 53.0% of GDP. It has risen again this financial year to a predicted to 47.3% of GDP from 44.7% last financial year. It is forecast to fall only slightly, to 47.2%, in 2023/24, before then falling more substantially as the tax rises and spending cuts announced in the Autumn Statement start to take effect. (Click here for a PowerPoint of this chart.)
Figure 3 shows public-sector debt since 1975. COVID support measures, capping energy prices and a slow growing or falling GDP have contributed to a rise in debt as a proportion of GDP since 2020/21. Debt is forecast to peak in 2023/24 at a record 106.7% of GDP. During the 20 years from 1988/89 to 2007/8 it averaged just 30.9% of GDP. After the financial crisis of 2007–8 it rose to 81.6% by 2014/15 and then averaged 82.2% between 2014/15 and 2019/20. (Click here for a PowerPoint of this chart.)
The government has been keen to stress that Mr Hunt’s statement does not amount to a return to the austerity policies of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, in office between 2010 and 2015. However, Labour Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said Mr Hunt’s Autumn Statement was an ‘invoice for the economic carnage’ the Conservative government had created. There have also been some comments raised by economists questioning the need for spending cuts and tax rises on this scale, with some saying that the decisions being made are political.
Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has commented on the plans, stating that the British people ‘just got a lot poorer’ after a series of ‘economic own goals’ that have made a recovery much harder than it might have been. He went on to say that the government was ‘reaping the costs of a long-term failure to grow the economy’, along with an ageing population and high levels of historic borrowing.
Disapproval also came from Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who criticised the government’s tax increases. He raised concerns about the government’s plans to increase taxation when the economy is entering a recession. He said, ’You would normally expect there to be some fiscal support for an economy in recession.’
High inflation and rising interest rates will lead to consumers spending less, tipping the UK’s economy into a recession, which the OBR expects to last for just over a year. Its forecasts show that the economy will grow by 4.2% this year but will shrink by 1.4% in 2023, before growth slowly picks up again. GDP should then rise by 1.3% in 2024, 2.6% in 2025 and 2.7% in 2026.
The OBR predicts that there will be 3.2 million more people paying income tax between 2021/22 and 2027/28 as a result of the new tax policy and many more paying higher taxes as a proportion of their income. This is because they will be dragged into higher tax bands as thresholds and allowances on income tax, national insurance and inheritance tax have been frozen until 2028. Government documents said these decisions on personal taxes would raise an additional £3.5bn by 2028 – the consequence of ‘fiscal drag’ pulling more Britons into higher tax brackets. The OBR expects that there will be an extra 2.6 million paying tax at the higher, 40% rate. This is going to put more pressure on households who are already feeling the impact of inflation on their disposable income.
However, this pressure on incomes is set to continue, with real incomes falling by the largest amount since records began in 1956. Real household incomes are forecast to fall by 7% in the next few years, which even after the support from the government, is the equivalent of £1700 per year on average. And the number unemployed is expected to rise by more than 500 000. Senior research economist at the IFS, Xiaowei Xu, described the UK as heading for another lost decade of income growth.
There may be some good news for inflation, with suggestions that it has now peaked. The OBR forecasts that the inflation rate will drop to 7.4% next year. This is still a concern, however, given that the target set for inflation is 2%. Despite the inflation rate potentially peaking, the impact on households has not. The fall in the inflation rate does not mean that prices in the shops will be going down. It just means that they will be going up more slowly than now. The OBR expects that prices will not start to fall (inflation becoming negative) until late 2024.
The overall tone of the government’s announcements was no surprise and policies were largely expected by the markets, hence their muted response. However, this did not make them any less economically painful. There are major concerns for households over what they now face over the next few years, something that the government has not denied.
It has been suggested that this situation, however, has been made worse by historic choices, including cutting state capital spending, cuts in the budget for vocational education, Brexit and Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget. It is evident that Britons have a tough time ahead in the next year or so. The UK has already had one lost decade of flatlining living standards since the global financial crisis and is now heading for another one with the cost of living crisis.
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BBC News (17/11/22)
The Guardian, Richard Partington and Aubrey Allegretti (17/11/22)
Sky News, Sophie Morris (18/11/22)
BBC News, Kevin Peachey (17/11/22)
BBC News, Kate Whannel (17/11/22)
BBC News (17/11/22)
The Conversation (17/11/22)
Resolution Foundation, Torsten Bell (18/11/22)
The Conversation, Steve Schifferes (18/11/22)
Financial Times, Delphine Strauss (17/11/22)
The Guardian, Larry Elliott (18/11/22)
The Guardian, Anna Isaac (18/11/22)
BBC News, Joshua Nevett (17/11/22)
CNBC, Elliot Smith (17/11/22)
The Observer, Will Hutton (20/11/22)
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UK Parliament (17/11/22)
Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson (17/11/22)
Institute for Fiscal Studies, members of IFS (17/11/22)
Channel 4 News, Neil Macdonald (17/11/2)
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Institute for Fiscal Studies, Stuart Adam, Carl Emmerson, Paul Johnson, Robert Joyce, Heidi Karjalainen, Peter Levell, Isabel Stockton, Tom Waters, Thomas Wernham, Xiaowei Xu and Ben Zaranko (17/11/22)
Resolution Foundation, Torsten Bell, Mike Brewer, Molly Broome, Nye Cominetti, Adam Corlett, Emily Fry, Sophie Hale, Karl Handscomb, Jack Leslie, Jonathan Marshall, Charlie McCurdy, Krishan Shah, James Smith,
Gregory Thwaites & Lalitha Try (18/11/22)
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Office for Budget Responsibility (17/11/22)
Office for Budget Responsibility (17/11/22)
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