Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt marked his wife's birthday by presenting the Autumn Statement in the House of Commons. The statement covered changes in tax, welfare, and public spending, addressing their potential impact on households and the overall national economy. This statement is significant given the UK’s ongoing recovery from inflation and the upcoming general elections.
Despite Hunt’s initial reluctance, The Tory government has been actively seeking ways, to alleviate the increasing tax burden on individuals, which is set to reach its highest level since the post-WWII era. The statement tackled this issue through indirect measures, steering away from direct income tax cuts. This involved a reduction in national insurance rates from 12 percent to 10 percent. A parallel provision pertains to the National Living Wage, expected to rise from £10.42 to £11.44 per hour for individuals aged 21 and above.
Businesses that have been tussling, with the challenges of the pandemic and the stagnant UK economy, are set to receive a similar treatment. Businesses will benefit from the already mentioned national insurance rate reductions and the provision of 'full capital expensing,' which in practice will enable them to deduct expenses on IT and machinery from their profits, thereby lowering their required corporation tax.
While celebrating from individual and business standpoints, it's crucial to acknowledge the bigger picture. The ongoing recovery from inflation and prevailing global geopolitical challenges cast a shadow on our positive outlook.
JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, described current times as 'scary and unpredictable,' driven by recent geopolitical crises in Israel-Palestine and Russia-Ukraine. There is a pressing need for nations to maintain a robust economy, the future appears uncertain and the markets have exhibited unpredictability, as seen in the rise in oil prices earlier in October. The current global trend is also to increase defence spending, and Sunak's recent pledge to raise the UK's defence spending to 2.5% of its GDP is a local example. These global trends contradict the proposed changes in the Autumn Statement, particularly the reduction in the national insurance rate as it restrains government revenue.
Complicating matters further is the challenge of inflation. Hunt, as recently as last month, expressed reluctance to trim taxes due to concerns about inflating prices. His firm stance was evident in his statement: " The one thing we won’t do is any kind of tax cut that fuels inflation. We’ve done all this hard work. We’re not going to throw that away." With Sunak successfully meeting his inflation goals, reaching a two-year low of 4.6%, the new rationale behind Hunt's statement becomes clearer. However, Andrew Bailey of the Bank of England emphasizes prudence, cautioning against premature rate cuts and highlighting the inflationary risks associated with the autumn statement, potentially undermining the progress accomplished thus far in reducing inflation. Bailey's perspective is sound, aligning with an economically valid and widespread approach, adopted by governments in dealing with inflation. It is common practice to take every possible measure to maximize government revenue and prevent individuals from accumulating wealth. This strategy seeks to manage the flow of money into the markets, reducing its negative effect on prices and preventing inflation. Hence, while the autumn statement aims to boost growth and attract investments, it may inadvertently trigger inflation instead of effectively lowering it.
The autumn statement seems more like a political move to secure conservative voters and boost overall voter support in anticipation of the upcoming general elections, expected next May. This impression is reinforced by recent cabinet reshuffling, a decline in Conservative polls, and internal party criticism aimed at Hunt for initially resisting further tax cuts. These factors highlight Jeremy Hunt's awareness of his temporary position, and the autumn statement can be interpreted as his effort to solidify his and his party's standing. In essence, the autumn statement raises concerns about its potential future impact on the economy and the nation.