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The Golden Goodbye Budget

Jeremy Hunt's final budget is a straightforward giveaway to every millionaire and landlord in our country — a parting glass to the only people they bothered serving in over a decade in power.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

With the economy in recession and voters deeply concerned about the state of the UK’s parlous public services, Jermey Hunt has used what may be his last budget as chancellor to announce a 2 percentage point cut to national insurance.

As the New Economics Foundation has pointed out, cuts to national insurance benefit the wealthiest households, which stand to gain £1,751 per year as a result of the changes, twelve times more than they benefit the poorest ones, who will gain just £145.

When inflation is taken into account, the poorest households will actually end up paying more tax, as rising prices push them into higher tax brackets.

Hunt also announced a range of other tax measures, including continuing the freeze on alcohol and fuel duties, abolishing the tax status of ‘non-doms’, and cutting the top rate of capital gains tax from 28 percent to 24 percent.

The non-dom policy is likely to raise an estimated £2 billion per year, and it comes in the wake of a scandal surrounding the Prime Minister’s wife, who has used non-dom status to reduce her tax bill.

While Hunt has previously resisted abolishing non-dom status, he has calculated that he can put the Opposition in a tight spot by removing it now. Labour had planned to use the extra £2bn per year raised from abolishing non-dom status to fund some of its pledges.

Hunt has delivered a double whammy by taking away one of Labour’s planned revenue raisers — abolishing non-dom status — while delivering tax cuts that households will notice immediately. Starmer will have to decide whether to cut back on spending pledges or reverse the tax cut.

The cut to the top rate of capital gains tax (CGT) is a massive giveaway to the wealthy — especially landlords. Taxpayers are exempt from paying capital gains tax — a tax on the amount an asset increases in value between purchase and sale — on their primary residences, but those with multiple homes must pay CGT on any capital gains from other properties.

Hunt is relying on the argument that cutting CGT will raise revenues, as it will encourage landlords to sell their properties, bringing in more tax revenue and increasing the stock of available housing.

But economists have pointed out that any increase in transactions — which will be limited given the impact of high interest rates on the housing market — will be more than offset by the fall in the rate of tax.

In other words, the cut to CGT is a massive giveaway to landlords and second home owners — a parting gift to his core constituency before Hunt leaves office.

Hunt has shown, yet again, that the Conservative Party is intent upon increasing the wealth of those at the top at the expense of everyone else.

A recent study showed that the UK leads the way in subsidising the rich. Support for the wealthy and powerful costs the UK £106.2 billion per year in the form of subsidies and lost taxes, as well as wider social and economic costs.

There should be absolutely no doubt that maintaining inequality in the UK is this government’s policy.

On the spending side of things, the chancellor has demurred from announcing further cuts to public spending to fund his tax cuts. Departmental spending will continue to increase at 1 percent per annum.

So, the government is borrowing to fund tax cuts — something that almost any economist would advise against. The IFS estimates that balancing the books will now require an extra £20 billion worth of cuts per year by 2028.

The thing is, Hunt knows that this isn’t going to be his problem. It’s going to be Labour’s problem. Political commentators will call this savvy politics from Hunt. But if the chancellor has succeeded in pushing Starmer into a hole, it’s a hole Starmer dug for himself.

Labour has tied its own hands by introducing an absurd fiscal rule, which commits the Party to balancing the books over its first term in office. He has also refused to raise taxes on the wealthy or on big businesses, meaning that any future Labour government will be severely constrained when it comes to public spending.

Over the long term, it will be Rachel Reeves, not Jeremy Hunt, who will have to figure out how to raise an extra £20 billion per year to balance the books.

Reeves has repeatedly stated that she will raise tax revenues by stimulating the economy, yet Labour has tied its own hands on this front too.

Not only will the Party be unable to increase spending on public services when in office, it recently abandoned the planned £28 billion increase in green investment, which would have created jobs and boosted growth while tackling climate breakdown.

Absent a plan to boost growth, Reeves will just have to hope that the global economy booms while Labour is in office. And with geopolitical conflict, trade tensions and climate chaos all on the rise, this seems extraordinarily unlikely.

Rather than investing to boost growth, the Tories are set on continuing to subsidise the wealth and power of those at the top. And Labour is not going to stand in their way.