Hunt claims it’s ‘bizarre’ to describe budget as giveaway for rich
Here are some more lines from Jeremy Hunt’s morning interview round.
Hunt claimed it was “bizarre” to describe the budget as a giveaway for the rich in the light of all the support going to people with the cost of living. Asked about this on Times Radio, he replied:
I think it is a rather bizarre thing to say that when this is a set of measures that mean in two weeks’ time we are going to be spending a total of £94bn billion this year.
A huge amount of money, giving around £3,000 of cost-of-living support to a typical household, including uprating benefits with inflation, one-off payments to people on low incomes of up to £900.
Yesterday the Treasury published a distributional impact analysis to go with the budget. It contained seven graphs, all of which showed measures benefiting the poorest households the most (making them progressive, by definition). But none of them analysed just the changes announced in yesterday’s budget; instead they included all measures from the autumn statement last year, all measures from the spending review of 2019, or the impact of the tax and benefit system as a whole.
Hunt claimed it was “impossible” to know how many doctors would return to work, or keeping working, as a result of his abolition of the lifetime pensions allowance. He said he did not accept the estimate from the Office for Budget Responsibility that only 15,000 more people would stay in the labour force as a result. (See 9.01am.)
[Streeting] seems to have changed his mind overnight on that one. He said it was crazy and it would save lives to get rid of that cap. Well, he was right in September when he said that.
Labour said today it would “encourage doctors to stay in work by creating a targeted scheme as the government has done for judges, rather than create free-for-all for the wealthy few”.
This is the biggest transformation in childcare in my lifetime.
It is a huge change and we are going to need thousands more nurseries, thousands more schools offering provision they don’t currently offer, thousands more childminders.
We are going as fast as we can to get the supply in the market to expand.
He rejected the claim that his decision in the budget to include construction workers on the shortage occupation list, which will make it easier for foreign construction workers to get visas to work in the UK, was a betrayal of people who voted for Brexit to reduce immigration. When this was put to him, he replied:
People who voted for Brexit didn’t vote for no immigration. They voted for control on migration …
But what those people who voted for Brexit want is an economy and economic model that does not depend on unlimited and unskilled migration. What those want is to know that the government has a plan to remove the barriers that stop people working in the UK … That was the plan that I announced yesterday.
Hunt says he is ‘hopeful’ of reaching agreement with unions over pay for nurses and other NHS staff
As my colleagues Aubrey Allegretti and Denis Campbell report, ministers and health unions are on the verge of a breakthrough in talks to resolve their long-running pay dispute that has triggered a series of NHS strikes in England, with an announcement expected later today.
In his interview on the Today programme this morning, Jeremy Hunt said nothing to counter suggestions that a deal is imminent. He said:
We are having discussions, quite good discussions I think, with unions.
We’ve been very flexible about what we’ve been prepared to offer. The only condition we put on those talks is we can’t give an offer that would itself fuel inflation and mean we are having the same discussions this time next year.
Asked if the government would be offering health workers more money, he replied:
We don’t have an agreement yet, so I can’t tell you what the quantum is.
I am hopeful we will have an agreement. I think we’ve had some very positive discussions but let’s see where it ends up today.
But he did not rule out the government increasing the 3.5% pay rise proposed for health workers for 2023-24 in its submission to the pay review body. Asked if the government would offer more, he said:
All I will say is, if the government says we will do a different deal, we will find a way to pay for it. Yes, we would like to settle these disputes.
UK on track for ‘disastrous decade’ of income stagnation, says Resolution Foundation in budget analysis
The UK remains on track for a “disastrous decade” of stagnant incomes and high taxes, despite cuts to public services, the Resolution Foundation said in its analysis of this morning. Here is the full report from the thinktank. And here is my colleague Phillip Inman’s story.
Jeremy Hunt defends pension tax giveaway for rich, saying it will lead to people getting NHS operations more quickly
Good morning. Liz Truss’s mini-budget self-destructed last year for many reasons, but the first element to get unpicked was the abolition of the 45p top rate of tax, a tax cut for the very rich. Labour is attacking Jeremy Hunt’s budget in the same manner, attacking his plan to abolish the pensions lifetime allowance (the limit on how much can be saved tax free) as a tax cut for the very rich.
Last night, in an interview with ITV’s Peston show, Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said Labour would try to block this with a vote in the Commons next week.
I think this could unravel as quickly as it began. If you remember last September, Liz Truss tried to cut the top rate of tax from 45p to 40p, everybody kicked off about it.
Next week there will be a vote on this, Labour will force a vote on this next week. And I would say to Conservative MPs in places like Ashfield, or Bolsover, or Stoke-On-Trent, whose side are you on? Are you on the side of ordinary working people in your constituencies who are seeing their taxes go up, or are you going to vote with Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt for a tax cut for the wealthiest in society?
This morning Labour said that, if it wins the next election, it will reverse Hunt’s move.
Reeves and Hunt have both been giving interviews this morning, and Hunt has defended the policy, saying it will benefit the NHS because it will stop senior doctors retiring early because the pension rules are a disincentive. He told the Today programme:
We have a particular problem in the NHS. We have large numbers of doctors who are reducing their hours or retiring early. The Royal College of Surgeons say that 69% of their members have reduced their hours because of the way pension taxes work. We have a big backlog in the NHS and all of us depend on the NHS.
We need to do everything we can. This is a measure that we can deliver quickly. The British Medical Association … say that this will mean that doctors do not leave the NHS because of pension tax rules. I think that’s very important.
The Office for Budget Responsibility said yesterday the policy would only lead to an extra 15,000 people staying in work. When this figure was put to Hunt, he said he did not accept it. He refused to give a figure for how many more doctors would stay in the workforces as a result of the pension allowance changes. But he said groups representing doctors insisted this would make a difference. He said:
We‘re spending £3bn a year in the NHS on locum doctors and agency nurses because of doctor shortfalls. If you ask doctors, they say this is one of the biggest reasons why consultants aren’t available.
If you’re asking what will have an impact on ordinary families up and down the country, it is getting their NHS operation done more quickly. And this is the simplest and quickest way to resolve that issue.
I will post more from the post-budget interviews this morning shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: The Resolution Foundation holds a briefing to present its assessment of the budget.
9.30am: Tony Blair gives evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee about the institutions set up by the Good Friday agreement.
10.30am: The Institute for Fiscal Studies holds its budget briefing.
11am: Keir Starmer is visiting a life science company in Edinburgh.
11.30am: MPs resume their debate on the budget.
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