“HIGHWAYMAN” Jeremy Hunt yesterday delivered a big uplift to the income of pensioners, benefit claimants and the lowest paid workers — funded by a tax raid on almost everyone else.
In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor saved £14billion by cutting the amount the Government will spend on keeping energy bills down.
He pledged £12 billion of that on cost-of-living payments to those on benefits, disabled and pensioners.
By allowing the energy cap to increase from £2,500 to £3,000 from April, 26million households will see gas and electricity bills rise.
Mr Hunt blamed “a recession made in Russia” for the pain, and said there were no “easy answers” to fix Britain’s economic blues.
He is still helping keep bills down, but by less than ex-PM Liz Truss had promised.
Without any Government intervention, bills would hit £4,000.
Mr Hunt will top up this support with a £900 cost-of-living announcement for the eight million households on means-tested benefits.
Another eight million pensioner households are entitled to receive an extra £300 to help with bills — even if they do not need the cash.
Six million on disability benefits will be given a further £150 payment to help with additional costs.
Mr Hunt told MPs his “expensive commitment” to uprate benefits by inflation would cost £11billion with a stealth tax raid on workers and business.
The green light was given for 12million pensioners to get a 10.1 per cent increase to their state pension from next April as Jeremy Hunt kept a promise to stick to the triple lock — to the delight of Tory MPs and campaigners.
The Chancellor resisted huge pressure to raise pensions by earnings only which would have saved him £6billion but would mean breaking a Tory election pledge.
The triple-lock guarantees state pension increases each year by whichever is higher — September’s inflation figure, wages or 2.5 per cent.
Now the full new state pension will rise from £185.15 to £203.85, and those who reached state pension age before April 2016 will see a rise of £14.35 to £156.20.
Mr Hunt, announcing the increase that works out at £870 a year, said: “To the millions of pensioners who will benefit from this measure I say — now and always, this Government is on your side.”
Ex-Pensions Minister Ros Altman said the decision will come as a “big relief” to millions of worried pensioners.
She said: “Today’s pensioners have contributed throughout their lives on the understanding they would have a State Pension in retirement, but the UK’s state pension would only provide a low basic amount, not enough for a great lifestyle.”
And, as revealed in The Sun on Saturday, the Government accepted the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission to increase the National Living Wage by 9.7 per cent.
The move will mean that from April next year workers will get £10.42 an hour.
That is worth an annual pay rise of £1,600 — in the largest ever cash increase for the Living Wage.
Mr Hunt also raised the issue of the sharp rise in economically-inactive working age adults reaching 630,000 since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
STRUGGLE TO FILL VACANCIES
He outlined how employment levels across the country have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels as businesses struggle to fill vacancies.
Ministers will also now demand that more than 600,000 extra people on Universal Credit must meet a work coach to enable them to up their earnings or hours.
The left-wing Resolution Foundation think-tank has warned ministers of a “huge cliff edge” with anyone earning a single pound too much will miss out on the £900.
Chief executive Torsten Bell said: “In the short-term, the Chancellor has announced a smaller but more progressive energy support package, with two-thirds going to the poorest half of households.
“But there will still be plenty of rough justice — particularly for the 2.3million low-income households who don’t receive means-tested benefits and therefore don’t qualify for lump-sum payments.”
Resolution Foundation said Mr Hunt had combined the rhetoric of predecessor George Osborne and the policies of Gordon Brown.
It said he had “backloaded fiscal tightening, combining huge stealth tax rises with far less concrete spending cuts.”
Tory MP Richard Drax warned the Chancellor “it is the private sector, and hardworking people through their taxes, who pay for Government expenditure… raising taxes on both risks stifling the growth and productivity that he and I both want.”
The Institute of Economic Affairs blasted: “The Chancellor has put the UK firmly on track for higher taxes, more spending and lower growth. This is a recipe for managed decline, not a plan for prosperity.”
But Mr Hunt told ITV: “I think that a Conservative Chancellor who stands up in the Commons and announced £25billion of tax rises, I don’t think anyone would say that is deferring a horrible decision.
“That is confronting this problem head-on and what support we can give to the economy in the next two years, of course we do while we’re going through a recession.”
Age UK hailed Hunt, saying: “The restoration of the triple lock next year, uprating of Pension Credit in line with inflation, and cost of living payments, are all extremely important for older people, particularly for the many with no other income to fall back on.”
Susannah Streeter, of Hargreaves Lansdown, added: “There will be a big sense of relief that benefits have been uprated with inflation and that a rise in the minimum wage is also on the way.”
Rachel Statham, at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: “Uprating benefits in line with inflation is a welcome step and will begin to plug the gap in families’ budgets next year.”
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