‘Hard road to follow’ for UK prosperity, says Jeremy Hunt before budget

Jeremy Hunt has said there is a “hard road to follow” to return the UK to prosperity, but said his budget will show a plan to improve opportunities and grow the economy.

Amid calls from Conservative backbenchers for more widespread tax cuts, including to corporation tax, the chancellor said Wednesday’s budget had to create a stable environment for business, but added: “Within the bounds of what is responsible, we will always look to reduce the tax burden.”

Hunt has already announced a package of measures on benefits and childcare in order to help people return to work. Parents eligible for help through universal credit will now be given childcare funding upfront, while it is understood that the amount they can claim will increase by hundreds of pounds.

The Treasury also announced plans to scrap the work capability assessment and replace it with a new system so that disabled people can try to take on extra work without being made to undergo reassessment if they need to leave work for health reasons. The plan, which had previously been announced by Labour, is billed as the biggest reform to welfare in a decade.

Hunt said the budget would aim to “break down the barriers that stop people here in the UK from working, whether that’s parents who have obstacles because of childcare costs, whether it’s older people who feel they need to retire earlier … whether it’s long-term sick who find there are barriers to working.

“This is a budget in which I will be systematically going through all the areas where there are barriers that stop people working who want to, so that we can help people get back to work, fill those vacancies for our businesses,” he told Sky.

Hunt said there was “no easy fix” for young people struggling with housing and the rising cost of living but the budget would aim to give hope.

“We actually have a record low youth unemployment, there are more jobs available for young people than we’ve ever had before. We’d have to do what it takes to bring down the cost of housing … we have to show to young people that having weathered these very difficult storms, having grown better than many other major countries, we have a plan for the future,” he told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg programme.

Hunt acknowledged that the childcare plans announced so far would not help families who were not on universal credit. “We would like to help everyone. It’s expensive to do it. You can’t always do everything at once,” he said.

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Hunt also hinted there could be some tax measures in the budget, but said it would have to be done responsibily.

“Last autumn, despite all the challenges we faced, we reduced business rates by an average of 10%, so a Conservative government will always cut taxes when we can. But we won’t run out of money. We will be responsible with public finances,” he told Sky.

The Guardian