Autumn Statement: The taxes Jeremy Hunt could cut

The Chanchellor was on the Sunday politics news programmes ahead of the Autumn Statement
The Chanchellor was on the Sunday politics news programmes ahead of the Autumn Statement - Jeff Overs/BBC

Jeremy Hunt has argued that tax cuts are needed to get the British economy “fizzing” again, but the exact measures he will announce on Wednesday remain closely guarded.

The Chancellor used an interview with The Telegraph on Saturday to make clear that now was the time to show the public there was a “path” to low taxes.

But the message is nuanced and caveats exist. On Sunday, with speculation rampant about which tax cuts are coming, Mr Hunt urged caution on scale: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The Chancellor has set guidelines on which tax cuts he will consider. Firstly, they must not fuel price rises. Inflation is still 4.7 per cent, higher than the 2 per cent target.

Secondly, they cannot be paid for by borrowing. And thirdly, they must help with the stated ambition for this Wednesday’s Autumn Statement: Boosting long-term economic growth.

So, what are the options being looked at and which are the most likely to be announced?

Business investment tax

It may not be the most eye-catching for households, but top of the list of expected tax cuts is an extension of the so-called “full expensing” scheme that Rishi Sunak has championed.

It allows companies to claim back 25p for every £1 invested in the UK, which means things like building factories and buying equipment are made cheaper.

Both Mr Hunt and Mr Sunak have previously stressed they want to prioritise business taxes when there is money to spend, since it has a more direct impact on economic growth.

Currently full expensing is due to end in April 2026. Mr Hunt wants to extend the scheme and, in an ideal world, make it permanent. But it is costly, at around £10bn a year.

Inheritance tax

There can be little doubt now that Downing Street has an interest in announcing an inheritance tax cut before the next general election, expected in autumn 2024.

Countless press stories have declared as much, including in this newspaper. The key questions are when such a move could happen and how far it would go.

Cutting inheritance tax this Wednesday has been closely examined, with a reduction in the 40 per cent rate – perhaps to 30 per cent or 20 per cent – explored as an option.

But since the plans leaked there have been voices of criticism as well as support from prominent Tories. Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor, became the latest critic on Sunday.

Inheritance tax was paid by just 4 per cent of estates in 2021. It may be harder to draw a direct link with boosting economic growth than other potential tax cuts.

Downing Street could choose to wait until the Spring Budget - closer to the next election - to go the whole hog and abolish inheritance tax entirely, at a cost of around £8bn a year.

Income tax

One of the reasons an inheritance tax cut has been looked at so closely is Treasury officials deemed it was unlikely to drive up inflation.
Few families will immediately sell the home they inherit and blow the lot, went the argument being voiced by some on the inside of Government.

But can the same be said for income tax, an option The Sunday Times reported was being looked at for a surprise cut that could help millions?

Mr Hunt dropped hints on Sunday in his broadcast round that he was lukewarm on such a move, warning against doing anything that fuels inflation in his BBC One interview.

Mr Sunak is on record in the past supporting cuts to the 20 per cent basic rate. He announced it would fall to 19 per cent when Chancellor, in plans now abandoned, and ran for the Tory leadership promising it would fall to 16 per cent by 2029.

Another idea which has caught the eye of Downing Street is lifting the threshold for the 40p income tax band. But again, a move next spring Budget could be deemed more economically and politically suitable.

National insurance

Mr Sunak has a troubled history with National Insurance. His decision to raise it by 1.25 percentage points to fund Boris Johnson’s social care plan dogged his Tory leadership bid.

Liz Truss made reversing the so-called Health and Social Care Levy one of her central promises in the 2022 summer contest she won. Mr Sunak chose not to reinstate it when he took over.

A cut to National Insurance rates could, in theory, be more closely chime with this Autumn Statement’s focus on boosting economic growth than a cut to income tax.

It is, to coin an old Tory attack line repeated by Labour after Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson’s increase, a “tax on work”. Both employees and employers pay it.

A reduction could be framed as helping make work pay. The Sun on Sunday reported a cut to the rate the self-employed pay was an option being considered.

Stamp duty

There has been continued speculation that a stamp duty cut could be announced, though there have been few specifics about what exactly could be done.

In the past both Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt have shown willingness to reduce stamp duty to boost the property market, seen as a critical cog in Britain’s economic growth.

Mr Sunak when chancellor offered stamp duty discounts during the Covid pandemic. Mr Hunt made Ms Truss’s stamp duty cut one of the few mini-Budget measures to remain.

The slumping property market would be cited if such a move was taken. Home-owners are also traditional Tory voters.

But a challenge on why those paying soaring rents are not getting financial support would likely follow.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.