Previous Section Index Home Page

Spending on housing benefit has risen from £14 billion 10 years ago to £21 billion today. That is close to a 50% increase over and above inflation. The costs are completely out of control. We now spend more on housing benefit than we do on the police and on universities combined. Among these enormous numbers for total
22 Jun 2010 : Column 174
spending, there are some equally enormous individual claims. Today there are some families receiving £104,000 a year in housing benefit. The cost of that single award is equivalent to the total income tax and national insurance paid by 16 working people on median incomes. It is clear that the system of housing benefit is in dire need of reform.

We will introduce that reform by resetting and restricting local housing allowances; uprating deductions; reducing certain awards; re-adjusting support for mortgage interest payments; and limiting social tenants' entitlement to appropriately sized homes. Lastly, we will for the first time introduce maximum limits on housing benefit, from £280 a week for a one-bedroom property to £400 a week for a four-bedroom property or larger. Our package today will reduce the costs of housing benefit by £1.8 billion a year by the end of the Parliament-or by just 7% of the total budget-but it will improve incentives to work. At the same time, we will target more resources at those who need them most by increasing the budget for discretionary housing payments to deal with hardship cases by £40 million, and from now we will cover the cost of an additional room for those claimants with a disability who need a carer.

Taken together, all those measures to control the costs of welfare will save the country £11 billion by 2014-15. Governments in the past have said that they were going to get to grips with welfare and to reward work. We are delivering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will bring forward proposals to further reform the benefits system as a tool to support work and encourage aspiration in time for the autumn spending review.

But as I said right at the start of this speech, this Budget is not just about paying for the bills of the past; it is also about planning for the future. It is my deeply held belief that a genuine and long-lasting economic recovery must have its foundations in the private sector. That is where the jobs will come from, and we will do absolutely everything to support their creation. We argued that imposing a jobs tax was the last thing that Britain needed in a recovery, and the businesses of the country agreed with us, so we will adopt a different approach. We will make it cheaper for companies to employ people. From April 2011, the threshold at which employers start to pay national insurance will rise by £21 a week above indexation. The cost of hiring people on incomes lower than £20,000 will be less than it is today; and in one move we will have lifted 650,000 employees out of this tax altogether.

But if we are to have a sustained, job-creating recovery, we need more than that. We need to see growth not just in one corner of our country, nor in just one sector, for we live in a world where the competition for business is growing ever more intense. I want a sign to go up over the British economy that says "Open for business", and this is how I propose to do it. Corporation tax rates are compared around the world, and low rates act as adverts for the countries that introduce them. Our current rate of 28p is looking less and less competitive, so we will do something about it. Next year we will cut corporation tax by 1%, to 27p in the pound, the year after we will cut it again by 1%, and again the year after, and again the year after that-four annual reductions in the rate of corporation tax that will take it down to just 24%. That will give us the
22 Jun 2010 : Column 175
lowest rate of any major Western economy, one of the lowest rates in the G20 and the lowest rate that this country has ever known.

At the same time, we will agree with businesses a long-term approach to the taxation of foreign profits, the treatment of intellectual property and the proposals from James Dyson on research and development. We will also reduce the small companies tax rate. The previous Government were planning to increase that tax rate next year to 22%, at the very time when we should be encouraging small businesses to grow. Instead, we will cut the rate to 20%, which will benefit some 850,000 companies. And because small businesses are struggling to obtain credit at the moment, I will extend the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, which supports small and medium-sized businesses' access to lending. Those changes will benefit at least 2,000 small businesses.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will come forward in the summer with further proposals on expanding the availability of credit, to ensure that the economic recovery is properly financed. Also, there are many small businesses in the tourism industry today. To help them, I am reinstating the favourable tax rules for furnished holiday lettings, which our predecessors had planned to repeal. I can also announce that there will be measures to cancel certain backdated business rates bills, including for many businesses in ports.

In the current climate, with the deficit the size that it is, all those reductions in tax must be more than paid for by other changes to business taxation, so we will not go ahead with the poorly targeted tax relief for the video games industry. There will be a small reduction in the rates for capital allowances, which will remain broadly in line with economic depreciation. For the majority of plant and machinery assets, the rate of the allowance will fall from 20% to 18%, while the allowance for longer-lived assets will fall from 10% to 8%. In other words, businesses will still receive full tax relief on their qualifying expenditure, but over a longer time frame.

I have also decided to reduce the annual investment allowance to £25,000 a year, to ensure that support is focused on investment by smaller firms. Over 95% of businesses will continue to have all their qualifying plant and machinery expenditure fully covered by this relief. Manufacturing as a whole will pay less tax. I have listened to the argument that changing those crucial allowances during the early stages of the economic recovery could be disruptive, so I will delay the reductions in capital and investment allowances to April 2012. That will give businesses the extra early advantage of the tax cuts, which will start to come in from next year.

Our reforms today will also mean a greater contribution from the banking sector-one that far outweighs any benefit that it will receive from the lower tax rates that I have just announced. In putting the nation's finances in order, we must remember that this was a crisis that started in the banking sector. The failures of the banks imposed a huge cost on the rest of society, so I believe that it is fair and right that in future banks should make a more appropriate contribution, reflecting the many risks that they generate. Such an approach has already been recommended by the International Monetary Fund. We are exploring the costs and benefits of a financial activities tax on profits and remuneration, and we will work with international partners to secure agreement,
22 Jun 2010 : Column 176
but today the British Government take the initiative in this global debate about the appropriate risks and rewards in international banking.

From January 2011, we will introduce a bank levy. It will apply to the balance sheets of UK banks and building societies, and to the UK operations of banks from abroad. There will be deductions for tier 1 capital and insured retail deposits, and a lower rate for longer maturity funding. Smaller banks with liabilities below a certain level will not be liable for the levy. Once fully in place, we expect the levy to generate over £2 billion of annual revenues.

There are those who have argued whether we should wait until every country in the G20 introduces a bank levy. I believe that is not reasonable or fair. Indeed, I can tell the House that the French and Germans have joined the UK today in committing to introduce a bank balance sheet levy. In a joint statement, our three Governments have pledged to ensure our banks make a fair contribution to reflect the risks they pose.

The message I hear from those in the business community is unequivocal: they want certainty and stability from Government so that they can start the long process of rebuilding their businesses. Today, I am offering them just that-a five-year plan to reform the corporation tax system, with lower rates, simpler rules and greater certainty. It provides the most fundamental and far-reaching reform of our corporate tax regime in generations. It offers a stable and consistent platform for a private sector recovery. It is a balanced package, which will send a clear signal that Britain is open for business. It will help companies invest, attract foreign investment and boost growth. Above all, it will help create jobs. By increasing the amount of business investment by an additional £13 billion between now and 2016, these reforms will help rebalance the economy away from household debt and Government consumption.

We will also take forward our plans to create a green investment bank, bringing forward private investment in clean energy and green technologies; and we will also need investment in our digital infrastructure. But the previous Government's landline duty is an archaic way of achieving this, hitting 30 million households who happen to have a fixed telephone line. I am happy to be able to abolish this new duty before it is even introduced. Instead, we will support private broadband investment, including to rural areas, in part with funding from the digital switchover underspend within the television licence fee.

Over the past decade, the British economy has become deeply unbalanced, and nowhere are those disparities as marked as between the different regions of Britain. Between 1998 and 2008, for every private sector job generated in the north and the midlands, 10 were created in London and the south. We need a new approach-one that empowers local leadership, generates local economic growth and promotes job creation in all parts of the country, including Wales and Scotland. We will publish a White Paper on how we intend to deal with these issues later in the summer, followed by a consultation paper on rebalancing the economy of Northern Ireland.

As a step towards rebalancing our economy, we are today announcing the support for those regions more dependent on the public sector. First, even when money is so short, we will commit to the following important regional transport projects: the upgrade of the Tyne
22 Jun 2010 : Column 177
and Wear metro; the extension of the Manchester Metrolink; the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station; and improvements to the rail lines to Sheffield and between Liverpool and Leeds.

Secondly, we will create a large regional growth fund to provide finance for regional capital projects over the next two years. We will announce the details shortly, but priority will be given to projects that have the greatest impact on improving innovation and creating jobs.

Thirdly, we will shortly announce a new tax scheme to help create new businesses in those regions where the private sector is not nearly strong enough. For the next three years, anyone who sets up a new business outside London, the south-east and the eastern region will be exempt from up to £5,000 of employer national insurance payments for each of the first 10 employees hired. We aim to have the scheme up and running by September, but any qualifying new business set up from today will also receive help. The Treasury estimates that some 400,000 new businesses will benefit, ensuring all parts of our country contribute to a more balanced and sustainable economic future.

Let me turn now to some further decisions we have made on taxation. I am someone who believes in the virtues of lower taxation, but the only sustainable route to lower taxes is by first achieving sound public finances. The sovereign debt crisis means we need to the reduce the deficit even more quickly in order to protect our economy. The Office for Budget Responsibility has revealed the size of the structural deficit to be even larger than we feared-£12 billion larger next year.

As a result, this Budget announces a further fiscal tightening of £40 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, including welfare and spending measures, over and above the previous Government's plans. To achieve that additional tightening while maintaining the right "four-to-one" balance between spending and taxation means that I have to announce further tax rises today.

On 4 January next year, the main rate of VAT will rise from 17.5% to 20%. [Interruption.] The years of debt and spending make this unavoidable. This single tax- [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Will hon. Members calm down? It is important to Members on all sides of the House that they can hear, but more important, the country takes this Budget very seriously, so I call for more calm and a little more restraint.

Mr Osborne: The years of debt and spending made this unavoidable. This single tax measure will by the end of this Parliament generate over £13 billion a year of extra revenues. That is £13 billion that we do not have to find from extra spending cuts or income tax rises. I can also give this House a commitment that we will keep everyday essentials such as food and children's clothing, as well as other zero-rated items like newspapers and printed books, exempt from VAT over the course of this Parliament. In line with the increase in the main rate of VAT, the higher rate of insurance premium will also rise from 17.5% to 20%, while the standard rate will increase from 5% to 6%.

22 Jun 2010 : Column 178

Let me turn to my decisions on duties. The March Budget included substantial increases in those, and I can tell the House that my Budget includes no new increases in duties on alcohol, tobacco or fuel. We will report back in the autumn on the scope for targeting alcohol duty at the products most associated with binge drinking and under-age consumption. We will explore changes to the aviation tax system, including switching from a per-passenger to a per-plane duty, and consult on major changes. This will help us to reduce our carbon emissions. We are examining the impact of sharp fluctuations in the price of oil on the public finances to see if pump prices can be stabilised, and we will also look at whether a rebate for remote rural areas could work.

I have one final announcement on duties. We have decided to reverse the previous Government's plans to increase the duty on cider by 10% above inflation and the reduction will come into effect at the end of this month-just in time to celebrate England's progress to the quarter finals, or else to drown our sorrows.

That brings me to council tax. At times like this when money is short, we think all parts of government should work hard to keep costs down, and we want to give councils every incentive to do just that. So we will offer a deal to local authorities in England: if they can keep their cost increases low, then we will help them to freeze council tax for one year from next April. That will mean that the average family will be some £35 better off next year, and every year thereafter. It will be one less rising bill for families to worry about, and it will drive value for money throughout all levels of government.

One of the most chaotic areas of tax that the new Government inherited from their predecessor is the capital gains tax regime. Some of the richest people in this country have been able to pay less tax than the people who clean for them. That is not fair, and it stems from the avoidance activity that has exploited the wider gap between the rate of capital gains tax and the top rates of income tax. Those practices are costing other taxpayers more than £1 billion every year.

It is therefore right, as set out in the coalition agreement, that capital gains tax should increase in order to help create a fairer tax system. I have listened carefully to everyone's views and considered all the options. My concern has been to balance the competing demands of fairness, simplicity and competitiveness-and I believe my decision gets that balance right. Low and middle-income savers who pay income tax at the basic rate make up over half of all capital gains taxpayers. They will continue to pay tax on their capital gains at 18%. From midnight, taxpayers on higher rates will pay 28% on their capital gains. I have also decided that the annual exempt amount for capital gains tax will remain at £10,100 this year, and will continue to rise with inflation in future years.

I am acutely aware of how important it is to protect the incentives to succeed in business and to innovate, so to promote enterprise, the 10% capital gains tax rate for entrepreneurs, which currently applies to the first £2 million of qualifying gains made over a lifetime, will be extended to the first £5 million of lifetime gains. I asked the Treasury to examine what would have happened if we had increased the rate much further beyond 28%, and its dynamic analysis showed that that would have resulted in smaller total revenues. I also considered in great detail the options presented to me for introducing
22 Jun 2010 : Column 179
tapers or indexation allowances, and concluded that the complexity and administration involved would have been self-defeating.

The changes that I have made mean that the capital gains of the majority of taxpayers are protected; that we have a top rate that is in line with those of our international competitors; that we keep the system simple and easy for any taxpayer to understand; and that we reduce the incentives to convert income to capital gains. It is revealing that the great majority of the almost £1 billion of extra receipts that we expect to see as a result of this change will come from additional income tax payments. I believe that that is the right way in which to reform the taxation of capital gains.

Let me say something about the previous Government's policy to reduce pension tax relief for people on high incomes, due to come in next year. Many businesses are alarmed at the complexity that it will introduce. I have listened to those concerns; however, I must also protect the £3.5 billion of revenues that the policy was set to raise from high-income people. I will therefore work with industry on alternative ways of raising the same amount of revenue, potentially by reducing the annual allowance.

Let me now turn to income tax. A responsible society is one that rewards the efforts of those who choose to work. The income tax system-in particular, the abolition of the 10% rate of income tax-has meant that many people on lower incomes face higher average tax rates. I believe that it is important to lift people out of the income tax system and allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money. It is especially important to make progress in this Budget, in which we are asking so much of so many, and this demonstrates that the coalition Government put fairness first.

In the current system, everyone under the age of 65 is eligible for a tax-free personal allowance of £6,475. That means that many thousands of people have their income taken away from them in tax, only to have to apply to get it back in benefits. That does not reward work. So today I can announce that we will increase the personal allowance by £1,000 in April. People will be able to earn £7,475 before they have to start paying income tax, 23 million people who are basic-rate taxpayers will each gain by up to £170 a year, and 880,000 of the lowest-income taxpayers will be taken out of tax altogether. Higher-rate taxpayers will not benefit from the change, and the higher-rate income tax threshold will have to remain frozen until 2013-14. Our long-term objective remains to increase the personal allowance to £10,000, as set out in the coalition agreement, and we will take real steps towards achieving that objective during the rest of this Parliament.

I do not disguise from the House that the combined impact of the tax and benefit changes that we make today are tough for people. That is unavoidable, given the scale of the debts that our country faces and the catastrophe that would ensue if we failed to deal with them. My priority in putting together this Budget has been to make sure that the measures are fair: that all sections of society contribute, but that the richest pay more than the poorest, not just in terms of cash but as a proportion of income as well. That is far from straightforward when the deficit is this high, and when the burden of reduction must rightly fall on Government spending.

Next Section Index Home Page