Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says taxes are ‘too high’ in Britain - but can’t say when they might come down

2 October 2023, 15:31

Jeremy Hunt speaking today at the Conservative Party conference
Jeremy Hunt speaking today at the Conservative Party conference. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

The Chancellor has said there can be ‘no short cuts’ towards bringing taxes down ahead of growing calls for tax cuts to be announced now ahead of a general election.

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Jeremy Hunt told an audience at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester: “If we are prepared to walk this difficult path it is possible to bring down taxes.

“But we can’t say when it will be possible.”

He ruled out tax cuts this year, and was unable to answer about next year, saying: “I don’t have a crystal ball. But if you’re asking me do I want to bring down the tax burden, the answer is absolutely yes.

He also announced a rise to the national living wage to £11 per hour, a crackdown on so-called benefits ‘shirkers’ and working to keep bringing inflation down.

Read more: 'No shortcuts on tax cuts' Jeremy Hunt says ahead of speech announcing tougher benefit rules and living wage boost

Jeremy Hunt: 'I do want to cut taxes'

He has argued that sizeable tax cuts this year would "compromise" the battle against inflation.

He said earlier today that he and Rishi Sunak were prioritising the pledge to halve prices before carrying out tax cuts in any "substantial way".

He told LBC earlier his biggest priority was "to cut taxes on businesses to get growth going in the economy."

He warned, "there are no shortcuts" saying "we have to unleash companies and make it easier for them to grow."

Mr Hunt also said taxpayers' money has to be "spent more efficiently."

Mr Hunt insisted the Prime Minister will survive in the role for his second in charge despite electoral prospects looking bleak.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has publicly called for pre-electoral tax cuts, a cry ousted leader Liz Truss will also make.

Mr Gove also backed Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch calling for the UK to keep the threat to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) "on the table" in a suggestion popular with the Tory right.

Some observers believe there is an unofficial "beauty pageant" going on just in case there is a chance to run for the leadership in the event of Tory failure at the next election.

Mr Hunt announced a national living wage increase to at least £11 an hour from April.

He will also look at the benefit sanctions regime to make it harder for people to claim welfare while refusing to take "active steps" to move into work.

With Mr Hunt insisting that tax cuts in the Autumn Statement are unlikely, the Tories would have the option of a giveaway at a possible full Budget in the spring before any election in 2024.

In other developments at the Manchester conference:

  • Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will set out plans to ban mobile phones from classrooms in England, with a source telling the Daily Mail she believes the devices "pose a serious challenge in terms of distraction, disruptive behaviour and bullying".
  • Former prime minister Ms Truss will call for tax cuts, fracking and measures to boost housebuilding in a bid to put pressure on Rishi Sunak from the Tory right.
  • Ms Badenoch, seen as a potential successor to Mr Sunak, will use her conference speech to stress her Brexiteer credentials and accuse critics of seeking to talk down the UK.

Mr Hunt and Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride are expected to use November's Autumn Statement to set out tough welfare reforms.

"I am incredibly proud to live in a country where, as Churchill said, there's a ladder everyone can climb but also a safety net below which no-one falls," Mr Hunt will say.

"But paying for that safety net is a social contract that depends on fairness to those in work alongside compassion to those who are not.

"As part of that we will look at the way the sanctions regime works. It is a fundamental matter of fairness.

"Those who won't even look for work do not deserve the same benefits as people trying hard to do the right thing."

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