Published On: Sun, Mar 10th, 2024

Rishi Sunak vows to ‘turbocharge’ economy by slashing ballooning benefits bill | Politics | News

Rishi Sunak has vowed to “turbocharge growth” by slashing Britain’s ballooning benefits bill.

The Prime Minister declared it is “common sense that where people can work, they should” amid warnings taxpayers will be spending a staggering £360billion on welfare by the end of the decade.

He insisted “we must and will go further” to get more people back into work.

Mr Sunak told the Daily Express: “I want a system that is fair, where hard work is rewarded by putting more of people’s own money back in their pockets.

“That’s why we’re looking to control welfare spending as one way to make sustainable tax cuts and turbocharge growth. It’s common sense that where people can work, they should. It’s the right thing for them as well as the taxpayer.

“We kick-started our plans to encourage more working-age people into employment with reforms last autumn, but we must and will go further.”

Mr Sunak has confirmed he wants to abolish national insurance in a bid to allow workers to keep more of their earnings.

A key to funding this pledge could be cutting the welfare bill, which is set to rise from £261.5billion in 2022-23 to £360.1billion in 2028-29, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The Prime Minister on Sunday revealed he’ll squeeze benefits to fund further cuts in national insurance.

And Mr Sunak is expected to “go further” by developing plans to reduce working-age benefits.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said she wanted to move from a “sick note” culture to one where a “fit note” would show what work people are able to do.

She told Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “I’m looking into how we can change the conversation from getting a sick note to getting a fit note.

“So, changing this emphasis that somehow musculoskeletal conditions, for example, which is a very common reason for people being signed off sick, that that means that you can’t do any work whatsoever.

“Because we know not only does work have financial benefits for us, it also is important for our wellbeing, it can help with our mental health, it can help with recovery.

“There’s a huge amount of work that Mel Stride is doing in the Department for Work and Pensions on this but, as Health Secretary, I really want to help him.”

With the economy set to be at the heart of the election battle between the Conservatives and Labour, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced another 2p cut to national insurance in April.

That means the rate will have fallen from 12p in the pound to 8p in just a few months, giving workers an average £900 back in their pay packets.

And Mr Hunt revealed the Government wants to abolish national insurance contributions entirely.

This sparked rows over how the commitment will be paid for. The aspiration to end the double taxation of work by scrapping national insurance was attacked as an unfunded promise by Labour, which pointed out it would cost the Exchequer about £46billion.

Paul Johnson, head of the respected independent Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, said the pledge was “not worth the paper it’s written on unless accompanied by some sense of how it will be funded”.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said on Friday that the plan to abolish NI was an “aspiration”, cautioning that it will “take time”.

But the Prime Minister said “significant progress” could be made towards the goal of eliminating the tax during the next parliament if his party remains in power.

Mr Sunak stressed his commitment to ending the “unnecessarily complex” system of having both income tax and national insurance contributions (NICs).

He told a Sunday newspaper: “We should be encouraging everyone who can to work. We should be supporting them into that. As well as fairness to the entire system, but also to make sure that we can sustainably keep cutting taxes.

“We now have almost 2.5 million working-age people who have been signed off as unfit to work or even look for work or think about working and I don’t think that’s right. We now sign off three times as many people to be out of work than we did a decade ago. That just doesn’t strike me as a system that’s working properly.

“I believe strongly in a society that rewards hard work. I’ve talked a lot about it and I believe work gives us a sense of purpose, a sense of identity. And it’s really important to me that we reward hard work and that’s why cutting NICs is the best way to do that.”

Mr Sunak’s Government is facing accusations that the population is facing the highest tax burden since 1948. Official forecasts have predicted tax as a share of national income will hit 37.1 percent.

But the Prime Minister said: “I think most fair-minded people recognise that the country has been through a lot over the last few years.

“We’ve had … once in a century, once in a generation crises: Covid, then as we were recovering from that, a war in Ukraine.

“And both of those things and high inflation require the government rightly to step in and support the country and people through those things. And unsurprisingly and inevitably, that meant that the tax burden had to rise to accommodate that. I don’t think that’s a political thing.”

Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – whose mini-budget alarmed the markets, sparking a crisis in the UK’s financial plans – claimed Mr Hunt’s budget did not go far enough.

He told GB News: “It was a very centrist and very careful Budget. It’s odd that having seen the Budget, the polls don’t seem to have moved at all. I think there’s going to have to be something different in the run up to the election, which is not going to take place in May.

“The idea that if we’re 28, 25 points behind, according to some polls, that we’re going to press the trigger on a General Election, I don’t believe that.”

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