The Chancellor’s promise to get Britain running again

Jeremy Hunt

The Chancellor making his budget announcement (Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Jeremy Hunt vowed to get the country back to work when he presented its first budget – and revealed the UK will avoid a recession this year.

The chancellor said his “growth budget” is targeting four “E’s” – business, employment, education and everywhere – to reduce barriers to work.

He said 30 hours of free childcare for parents with children under three, “returnees” to retrain those over 50 and the lifting of a £1million lifetime limit on tax-free pension contributions would help convince up to 7million people to return to work – and quit Doctors are leaving the NHS.

Another fuel tax freeze and lower pub taxes would ease the cost-of-living crisis, he said, telling MPs: “The denials are wrong and the optimists are right.” Mr Hunt – appointed after ex- Prime Minister Liz Truss last September – unveiled 12 new Canary Wharf-style investment zones to be set up across the country – part of his ‘everywhere’ focus on leveling to spread wealth. It would also give local authorities more powers to direct investments in their areas.

He said the current price cap of £2,500 on household electricity bills would be extended until July as part of a strategy that would also include tax increases for nuclear power and £20bn for carbon capture projects.

And he promised that his “Enterprise” strategy would create a “science and technology superpower” with support for artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt Budget Day

The Chancellor and his team leave for Parliament (Image: No.10 Downing Street)

Spring budget 2023: Key points

For the latest on the budget announcement visit Metro’s budget news hub.

The Chancellor joked: “British ale may be warm but the pint duty is frozen” as he announced tax breaks on drinks sold in pubs to boost high streets in what he called the “Brexit Pubs Guarantee”.

He said: “From 1 August tariffs on draft products in pubs will be up to 11p lower than tariffs in supermarkets – something that wasn’t possible when we were in the EU.”

The alcohol tax will increase with inflation from August, while that on cigarettes will rise 2 percent above inflation.

But Mr Hunt’s main focus was on “employment”. He warned that filling the one million job vacancies in the UK was crucial as he promised an end to “unlimited migration of the low-skilled”.

Jeremy Hunt leaves his Spring Budget, Downing Street, London, UK - March 15, 2023

The Chancellor’s family take a selfie outside Downing Street (Image: Guy Bell/Shutterstock)

He announced tougher sanctions for those who avoid work, up to £4,000 to help people with disabilities work and £400m to tackle mental health and back problems that keep people at home. Mid-life MOTs will be introduced in benefits for over 50s and returnships will allow them to enroll as apprentices.

“For too many, turning 50 is a moment of dread at the abyss of retirement rather than a moment of anticipation for another two decades of fulfillment,” he said. The Chancellor called on a million mothers to return to work with free childcare. Parents of two-year-olds will get 15 hours a week from April next year, before expanding to parents of nine-month-olds in September. A year later – in a “pioneering reform” – it will increase to 30 hours.

“I don’t want parents with a child under five to be prevented from working if they want to,” he said as his own children watched from the visitors’ gallery.

Keir STarmer

Sir Keir Starmer made a lettuce neck (Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

“It damages our economy and is unfair, especially to women. It’s a package worth an average of £6,500 per year for a family with a two-year-old child requiring 35 hours of childcare per week, reducing their childcare costs by almost 60 per cent.’

A further £289million in ‘start’ funding has been uncovered for ‘all-round childcare’ from 8am to 6pm in 2026 to boost ‘education’. There was breathing space as he said the amount people can put tax-free into their pensions each year will rise from £40,000 to £60,000, ending the £1.07million lifetime limit.

He said it would help end the exodus of NHS doctors taking early retirement, but Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer called it a “huge giveaway for some of the wealthiest”.

He added: “We needed a solution for doctors, but the only permanent tax cut in the budget is for the richest one percent.”

Budget Bantz

■ Deputy spokeswoman Dame Eleanor Laing, 65, seemed reluctant to be cited as an example of plans to get “older” people back into work. Jeremy Hunt, 56, said: “Madam Deputy Speaker, I’m not saying this to flatter you but older people are the most skilled.”

■ The Chancellor poked fun at disgraced ex-Secretary Matt Hancock when he told MPs he was discussing pension tax reforms to keep doctors “not just with the current Health Secretary, but with a former Health Secretary who was kindly taking a break from the WhatsApp contact with his colleagues to think about it’.

■ Jeremy Hunt boasted about the use of renewable energy, saying it is “the Conservatives who fix the roof while the sun shines”. But he also called for nuclear power because “the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, even among conservatives.”

He said the budget had left Britain “on a path of managed decline” and said the former Health Secretary had ignored seven million on NHS waiting lists with “stick-on-aid” solutions.

“The reality is that a country that gets sicker becomes a country that gets poorer, and a country that gets poorer becomes a country that gets sicker,” he said. The Chancellor laid out his vision as the FTSE100 plunged nearly four percent amid the fallout from the collapse of California’s Silicon Valley bank.

“Again we hear the apology of global events,” Sir Keir told him. “But again, we see a failure to address the long-term challenges and a lack of determination to create growth.

“We know the Tory cupboard is as empty as the salad section in our supermarkets. The lettuce may be out, but the turnips are in.’

The Office for Fiscal Responsibility forecast inflation, now at 10 percent, will reach 2.9 percent by the end of this year, and the economy will contract by 0.2 percent — less than feared. Home prices will fall 10 percent from their peak and living standards will not return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2027, the independent body warned.

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Justin Scacco

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