Autumn Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 12:35 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:35, 22 Tachwedd 2023

I come today with good news: it is my wife’s birthday and, unlike me, she is looking younger every year.

I turn to the statement. After a global pandemic and energy crisis, we have taken difficult decisions to put our economy back on track. We have supported families with rising bills, cut borrowing and halved inflation. Rather than a recession, the economy has grown. Rather than falling as predicted, real incomes have risen. Our plan for the British economy is working, but the work is not done. Others proposed a more short-term approach, but we have not made unaffordable pay offers to the unions, we have not stopped new oil and gas exploration, and we have not increased borrowing by £28 billion a year. That would have pushed inflation up just when we need to bring it down. Instead, under this Prime Minister, we take decisions for the long term.

In today’s autumn statement for growth our choice is not big government, high spending and high tax, because we know that that leads to less growth, not more. Instead, we reduce debt, cut taxes and reward work. We deliver world-class education, we build domestic sustainable energy, and we back British business with 110 growth measures. Do not worry; I am not going to go through them all—[Interruption.] Well, I will if you like! In summary, they remove planning red tape, speed up access to the national grid, support entrepreneurs raising capital, get behind our fastest-growing industries, unlock foreign direct investment, boost productivity, reform welfare, level up opportunity to every corner of the country, and cut business taxes.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says that the combined impact of these measures will raise business investment, get more people into work, reduce inflation next year and increase GDP, but Conservatives also know that a dynamic economy depends on the energy and enterprise of people more than any diktats or decisions by Ministers, so today’s measures do not just remove barriers to investment; they reward effort and work. I will go through the measures in three parts. In the first, I will use updated OBR forecasts to show the progress that we are making against the Prime Minister’s economic priorities. The second part will set out growth measures to back British business. Finally, I will conclude with measures to make work pay.

Before I start with the forecasts, I want to express my horror at the murderous attack on Israeli citizens on 7 October and the subsequent loss of life on both sides. I will remember for the rest of my life, as I know many other hon. Members will, being taken to Auschwitz by the Rabbi Barry Marcus and the remarkable Holocaust Educational Trust. I am deeply concerned about the rise of antisemitism in our country, so I am announcing up to £7 million over the next three years for organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust to tackle antisemitism in schools and universities. I will also repeat the £3 million uplift to the Community Security Trust. When it comes to antisemitism and all forms of racism, we must never allow the clock to be turned back.

I now move on to the OBR’s economic and fiscal forecasts, and I thank Richard Hughes and his team for their sterling work in preparing them. Three of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s five pledges at the start of the year were economic: to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt. Today I can report to the House that we are delivering on all three.

Let’s start with inflation. The shadow Chancellor did not mention it in her conference speech. My conference speech was before hers, so all she had to do was a bit of copying and pasting, which I have heard she is good at. But it speaks volumes that during the worst global inflation shock for a generation, it did not even get a mention. Well, if controlling inflation isn’t a priority for Labour, it is for us.

When the Prime Minister and I took office, inflation was at 11.1%; last week, it fell to 4.6%. We promised to halve inflation and we have halved it. Core inflation is now lower than in nearly half of the economies in the EU, and the OBR says that headline inflation will fall to 2.8% by the end of 2024, before falling to the 2% target in 2025. I will not take risks with inflation, and the OBR confirms that the measures I take today make inflation lower next year than it would otherwise have been. I thank the independent Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee for its crucial role in bringing inflation down, and we will continue to back it to do whatever it takes until the job is done. But as we do, we will continue to support families in difficulty, and today I add four further measures to help with the cost of living.

First, for those on the lowest incomes, I understand the concerns some have about the effect on work incentives of matching benefit increases to inflation, and I know there has been some speculation that we would increase benefits next year by the lower October figure for inflation. But cost of living pressures remain at their most acute for the poorest families, so instead the Government have decided to increase universal credit and other benefits from next April by 6.7%, in line with September’s inflation figure, an average increase of £470 for 5.5 million households next year—vital support to those on the very lowest incomes from a compassionate Conservative Government.

Secondly, because rent can constitute more than half the living costs of private renters on the lowest incomes, I have listened closely to many colleagues as well as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, Citizens Advice UK and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who said that unfreezing the local housing allowance was an “urgent priority”. I will therefore increase the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile of local market rents. This will give 1.6 million households an average of £800 of support next year.

Thirdly, although I am going to increase duty on hand-rolling tobacco by an additional 10% above the tobacco duty escalator, I know that for many people going to the pub has become more expensive. I have listened closely to the persuasive arguments on alcohol duties from my hon. Friend Douglas Ross and my right hon. Friend David Mundell, fierce champions of the Scotch whisky industry. I have also listened to defenders of the great British pint such as my right hon. Friend Alun Cairns and my hon. Friend Greg Smith, to Councillor Jane Austin who is a big supporter of the Jolly Farmer pub in Bramley in my constituency, and indeed to The Sun newspaper. So as well as confirming our Brexit pubs guarantee, which means the duty on a pint is always lower than in the shops, I have decided to freeze all alcohol duty until 1 August next year; that means no increase in duty on beer, cider, wine or spirits.

Finally, pensioners. The triple lock has helped to lift 250,000 older people out of poverty since it was instituted by a Conservative Government in 2011 and has been a lifeline for many during a period of high inflation. There have been reports that we would uprate it by a lower amount, to smooth out the effect of high public sector bonuses in July, but that would have been particularly difficult for 1 million pensioners whose only income is from the state.

So instead, today we honour our commitment to the triple lock in full. From April 2024, we will increase the full new state pension by 8.5% to £221.20 a week, worth up to £900 more a year. That is one of the largest ever cash increases to the state pension, showing that a Conservative Government will always back our pensioners.

Including today’s measures, our total commitment to easing cost of living pressures has risen to £104 billion. That includes paying around half the cost of the average energy bill since last October and amounts now to an average of £3,700 per household. We are able to do that only because we reduced the deficit by 80% ahead of the pandemic, which the Labour party might reflect on, having opposed us every step of the way.

Next, I turn to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce debt. Before I took difficult decisions at last year’s autumn statement, debt was predicted to rise to almost 100% of GDP by the end of the forecast. Since then, the economy has outperformed expectations and I have taken difficult decisions to reduce borrowing. As a result, headline debt is now predicted to be 94% of GDP by the end of the forecast.

The OBR today forecasts that underlying debt will be 91.6% of GDP next year, 92.7% in 2024-25 and 93.2% in 2026-27, before declining in the final two years of the forecast to 92.8% in 2028-29. That is lower in every year compared with forecasts in the spring. We therefore meet our fiscal rule to have underlying debt falling as a percentage of GDP in the final year of the forecast, with double the headroom compared with the OBR’s March forecast. We will continue to have the second lowest Government debt in the G7—lower than the United States, Canada, France, Italy or Japan.

I turn to borrowing. Rachel Reeves said that when it comes to borrowing, she “will take it up” by £28 billion a year. Indeed, she has opposed every decision we have made to reduce our borrowing. The Government will bring borrowing down, because, as the late Lord Lawson said, borrowing is just a deferred tax on future generations.

I see the Leader of the Opposition shaking his head. In fact, we have something in common: both he and I wanted to make a Jeremy Prime Minister. In fairness, his party and mine are probably equally relieved that we failed but, whereas this Jeremy is growing the economy, his Jeremy would have crashed it.

The numbers show the contrast. According to the OBR, borrowing is lower this year and next, and on average across the forecast by £0.7 billion every year compared with the spring Budget forecasts. It falls from 4.5% of GDP in 2023-24 to 3.0%, 2.7%, 2.3%, 1.6% and 1.1% in 2028-29. That means we also meet our second fiscal rule that public sector borrowing must be below 3% of GDP, not just by the final year, but in almost every year of the forecast.

Some of that improvement is from higher tax receipts from a stronger economy, but we also maintain a disciplined approach to public spending. As I set out in the spring Budget, resource spending will increase by 1% a year from 2025-26 in real terms, and we are sustaining the record 2020 increase in capital spending in cash terms until the end of the forecast. Within this, we will meet our NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence—critical at a time of global threats to the international order, most notably from Putin’s evil war in Ukraine.

We also support a group of people to whom we owe our freedom: our brave veterans. I will extend national insurance relief for employers of eligible veterans for a further year, and provide £10 million to support the Veterans’ Places, Pathways and People programme. I thank our excellent Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend Johnny Mercer, for his championing of their cause.

We have shown that we are prepared to increase funding for vital public services, with record numbers of police officers, doctors, nurses and teachers. We are nearly doubling the numbers of doctors and nurses we train, having given the NHS its first ever long-term workforce plan, as I promised a year ago. We are also tackling the biggest single preventable cause of mortality that the NHS has to deal with by bringing forward plans for a smokefree generation.

However, alongside extra funding and support, we need to see reform. We need a more productive state, not a bigger one. That is why I want the public sector to increase productivity growth by at least half a percent. a year—the level at which the size of our state starts to reduce as a proportion of GDP. I have already announced plans to cap and reduce the size of the civil service to pre-pandemic levels. I pay tribute to the excellent former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend John Glen, who started our brilliant public sector productivity programme. That will now be pursued by his formidable successor, my hon. Friend Laura Trott, who has already been with me to meet police, fire and ambulance personnel to understand why bureaucracy is holding them back.

Through that vital work, we will ensure that, over time, the growth in public spending is lower than the growth in the economy, while always protecting the services that the public value. I will also provide His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with the resources it needs to ensure that everyone pays the tax they owe, raising an additional £5 billion across the forecast period.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also promised to grow the economy. Since 2010, despite inheriting what was then the worst recession since the second world war, Conservative Administrations have presided over faster growth than many of our major competitors, including Spain, Italy, France—[Interruption.] Well, the Opposition do not like to hear this, but let me tell them the list: Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Japan. We have grown faster than all of them since 2010.

However, all those countries have faced a pandemic and an energy shock. As a result, last autumn the OBR forecast a recession in which the economy would shrink by 1.4% this year. Instead, it grew—in fact, it has grown faster than the euro area. Revised numbers from the Office for National Statistics now say that the economy is 1.8% larger than it was pre-pandemic. Looking ahead, the OBR expects the economy to grow by 0.6% this year and 0.7% next year. After that, growth rises to 1.4% in 2025, then 1.9%, 2%, and 1.7% in 2028.

If we want those numbers to be higher, we need higher productivity. The private sector is more productive in countries such as the United States, Germany and France because it invests more—on average 2 percentage points more of GDP every year. The 110 measures that I take today help to close that gap by boosting business investment by £20 billion a year. They do not involve borrowing more and ramping up debt, as some advocate. Instead, they unlock investment, with supply-side reforms that back British business in the following areas.

First: skills. No economy can prosper without investing in the potential of its people. Despite strong opposition, we took the difficult decisions to reform our schools. England’s nine to 10-year-olds are now the fourth best readers in the world, and since 2015, our 15 to 16-year-olds have risen seven places in the OECD rankings for maths— not least thanks to the efforts of my brilliant right hon. Friend Nick Gibb. However, 9 million adults in England still have low basic literacy or numeracy skills, so last month the Prime Minister set out the new advanced British standard to ensure that all school leavers reach minimum standards in maths and English.

While the Labour party wants to reduce the number of apprentices, we want to increase it. Following engagement with Make UK and others, I am announcing a further £50 million of funding over the next two years to pilot ways to increase the number of apprentices in engineering and other key growth sectors where there are shortages. [Hon. Members: “Is that it?”] There are 110 of these measures, so be patient, folks.

I will move on to planning. It takes too long to approve infrastructure projects and business planning applications. Many businesses say that they would be willing to pay more if they knew their application would be approved faster. Therefore, from next year, working with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, I will reform the system to allow local authorities to recover the full costs of major business planning applications in return for being required to meet guaranteed faster timelines. If they fail, fees will be refunded automatically, with the application being processed free of charge—a prompt service or your money back, just as would be the case in the private sector.

Many planning applications are for house building. The Leader of the Opposition told us that he wanted to be a builder, not a blocker. That did not last long: just a few months later, Labour blocked reforms to the rules on nutrient neutrality, shamelessly preventing 100,000 houses from being built. Conservatives, on the other hand, are the builders, with more homes being completed in 2021-22 than in any single year of the last Labour Government.

Today, we take further decisions to unlock the building of more homes. We will invest £110 million over this year and next to deliver high-quality nutrient mitigation schemes, unlocking 40,000 homes. We will invest £32 million to bust the planning backlog and develop fantastic new housing quarters in Cambridge, London and Leeds, which will lead to many thousands of additional dwellings. We will allocate £450 million to the local authority housing fund to deliver 2,400 new homes, and we will consult on a new permitted development right to allow any house to be converted into two flats provided the exterior remains unaffected.

It is also taking too long for clean energy businesses to access the electricity grid, so after talking to businesses such as National Grid, Octopus Energy and SSE, we today publish our full response to the Winser review and the connections action plan. These measures will cut grid access delays by 90% and offer up to £10,000 off electricity bills over 10 years for those living closest to new transmission infrastructure. Taken together, those planning and grid reforms are estimated to accelerate around £90 billion of additional business investment over the next 10 years.

Next, on foreign direct investment, I am extremely grateful to Lord Harrington for his excellent report on how to increase foreign direct investment. We accept all his headline recommendations. In particular, we will put in place a concierge service for large international investors modelled on the best such services offered by our competitors, and we will increase funding for the Office for Investment to deliver it.

I now turn to reforms to pension funds that will increase the flow of capital going to our most promising growth companies in a way that also improves outcomes for savers. I will take forward my Mansion House reforms starting with measures to consolidate the industry. By 2030, the majority of workplace defined contribution savers will have their pension pots managed in schemes of over £30 billion, and by 2040 all local government pension funds will be invested in pools of £200 billion or more. I will support the establishment of investment vehicles for pension funds to use, including through the LIFTS competition—the long-term investment for technology and science competition, a new growth fund run by the British Business Bank—and by opening the Pension Protection Fund as an investment vehicle for smaller defined benefit pension schemes.

I will also consult on giving savers a legal right to require a new employer to pay pension contributions into their existing pension pot if they choose to do so, meaning that people can move to having one pension pot for life. These reforms could unlock an extra £75 billion of financing for high-growth companies by 2030 and provide an extra £1,000 a year in retirement for an average earner saving from 18. Alongside this, I am proposing further capital market reforms to boost the attractiveness of our markets and make sure the UK remains one of the most attractive places to start, grow and list a company. As part of this, I will explore options for a NatWest retail share offer in the next 12 months, subject to market conditions and achieving value for money. It’s time to get Sid investing again.

I now turn to measures to support our most innovative industries. In the last decade under the Conservatives, we have grown to become the third largest technology sector in the world—double the size of Germany and three times the size of France. We have the biggest life sciences industry in Europe, and we are Europe’s third largest generator of renewable electricity after Germany and Norway, and the eighth largest manufacturer in the world. When it comes to tech, we know that artificial intelligence will be at the heart of any future growth, and I want to make sure that our universities, scientists and start-ups can access the compute power they need. As such, building on the success of the supercomputing centres in Edinburgh and Bristol, I will invest a further £500 million over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse.

Our creative industries already support Europe’s largest film and TV sector. This year’s all-Californian blockbuster “Barbie” was filmed in the constituency of my hon. Friend Dean Russell—where, of course, the sun always shines. Even more could be invested in visual effects if we increased the generosity of the film and high-end TV tax credits, so I will today launch a call for evidence on how to make that happen.

British-discovered vaccines and treatments saved more lives across the world during the pandemic than those from any other country, and I am incredibly proud of our life sciences industry. To further support research and development, I am creating a new, simplified R&D tax relief that combines the existing R&D expenditure credit and small and medium-sized enterprise schemes. I will also reduce the rate at which loss-making companies are taxed within the merged scheme from 25% to 19%, and lower the threshold for the additional support for R&D-intensive loss-making SMEs that I announced in the spring to 30%, which will benefit a further 5,000 SMEs. And because 2028 marks the centenary of the invention of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, I am giving £5 million to Imperial College and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to set up a Fleming centre to inspire the next generation of world-changing innovations.

International investors say that the biggest thing we could do for our advanced manufacturing and green energy sectors is announce a longer-term strategy for their industries, so with the Secretaries of State for Business and Trade and for Energy Security and Net Zero, I am today publishing those plans. I confirm that we will make available £4.5 billion of support over the five years to 2030 to attract investment into strategic manufacturing sectors. That includes: £2 billion of support for zero-emission investments in the automotive sector, which has been warmly welcomed by Nissan and Toyota; £975 million for aerospace, building on decades of success from firms such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce; and £520 million for life sciences, building on the strength of world-class British pharma companies such as AstraZeneca and GSK. We will also provide £960 million for the new green industries growth accelerator, focused on offshore wind; electricity networks; nuclear; carbon capture, utilisation and storage; and hydrogen. Those targeted investments will ensure that the UK remains competitive in sectors where we are already leaders, and innovative in sectors where we are not. Taken together, that support will attract an estimated £2 billion of additional investment across our fastest-growing innovation sectors every year over the next decade.

One reason why we support our manufacturing and clean energy sectors is that they help to level up growth across the United Kingdom, so I now turn to further levelling-up measures. In the spring, I announced that we would deliver 12 new investment zones—12 mini Canary Wharfs—where Government, industry and research institutes will collaborate across the UK. Since then, the Exchequer Secretary, my hon. Friend Gareth Davies, has done outstanding work across Government to bring that vision to fruition. Following tenacious representations from my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie—no Chancellor’s speech would be complete without a mention of my hon. Friend—and from the unstoppable Mayor of Tees Valley, I have today decided to extend the financial incentives for investment zones and the tax reliefs for freeports from five years to 10 years. I will also set up a £150 million investment opportunity fund to catalyse investment into that programme.

On Monday, I confirmed that there will be a new investment zone in West Yorkshire. Today, having listened to representations from the west midlands salesman-in-chief Andy Street, as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Bury North (James Daly), I am announcing three further investment zones focused on advanced manufacturing in the west midlands, east midlands and Greater Manchester. Together, local partners expect that those investment zones will help catalyse over £3 billion of private investment and 65,000 new jobs. Having listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), I can announce a second investment zone in Wales in the fantastic region of Wrexham and Flintshire, which I will visit tomorrow.

We are publishing new devolution deals with four areas, including Hull and East Yorkshire, and offering devolved powers to even more county areas. One of those areas will be the leafiest and most charming county in the country, namely Surrey, where of course the Leader of the Opposition grew up—we do not get everything right. On Monday, we saw the announcement of £1 billion of funding through round 3 of the levelling-up fund, supporting projects following the campaigning efforts of Members from Keighley, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Scunthorpe—and of course, Mr Speaker, Chorley. I can also confirm that we will proceed with over £50 million of funding for high-quality regeneration projects in communities such as Bolsover, Monmouthshire, Warrington and Eden Valley, all of which have particularly effective local MPs as their champions. Because we are proudly the Conservative and Unionist party, I am announcing £80 million for the new levelling-up partnerships in Scotland, £500,000 to support the Hay festival in Wales, and £3 million of additional funding to support the successful tackling paramilitarism programme in Northern Ireland.

I turn next to small businesses—I ran my own for 14 years, and have always known that every big business was a small business once. The Federation of Small Businesses says that the biggest thing I could do to help its members is end the scourge of late payments. We passed the Procurement Act 2023, which means that the 30-day payment terms that are already set for public sector contracts will automatically apply throughout the subcontractor supply chain, but from April 2024 I will also introduce a condition that any company bidding for large Government contracts should demonstrate that it pays its own invoices within an average of 55 days. That number will reduce progressively to 30 days.

Any small business will also say that the biggest frustration it faces is the tax it pays before making a penny of profit, not least business rates. The Government have already taken a third of properties completely out of rates through small business rates relief. We have frozen the tax rate for the last three years, at a cost of £14.5 billion; we have removed downwards caps from transitional relief; and for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, we have introduced a one-year 75% discount on business rates up to £110,000. Those measures have saved the average independent shop over £20,000. It is not possible to continue with temporary support measures forever, but while the standard multiplier—which applies to high-value properties—will rise in line with inflation, I have today decided that we will freeze the small business multiplier for a further year.

Following extensive discussions with the FSB and many colleagues in this House, I have also decided to extend the 75% business rates discount for retail, hospitality and leisure for another year. This will save the average independent pub over £12,800 next year and, at a cost of £4.3 billion, is a large tax cut that recognises the role of pubs and high street shops in our communities. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) and for East Devon (Simon Jupp) for their tenacious campaigning on this issue.

Finally, I turn to the smallest of all businesses—those run by the self-employed. These are the people who literally kept our country running during the pandemic: the plumbers who fixed our boilers in lockdowns, the delivery drivers who brought us our shopping and the farmers who kept food on our plates. As part of our plans to grow the economy, I want to reform and simplify taxes paid by the self-employed, so today I am announcing a major reform of one of those taxes. It is one most people have not heard of, but it is a big deal for those who have to pay it.

Class 2 national insurance is a flat-rate compulsory charge, currently £3.45 a week, paid by self-employed people earning more than £12,570, which gives state pension entitlement. Today, after careful consideration and in recognition of the contribution made by self-employed people to our country, I can announce that we are abolishing class 2 national insurance all together, saving the average self-employed person £192 a year. Access to entitlements and credits will be maintained in full and those who choose to pay voluntarily will still be able to do so, but this change simplifies and cuts tax for nearly 2 million self-employed people, while protecting the interests of those on the lowest pay.

Because we value their work, I am also taking one further step for the self-employed. They also pay class 4 national insurance at 9% on all earnings between £12,570 and £50,270. Today, I have decided to cut that tax by one percentage point to 8% from April. Taken together with the abolition of the compulsory class 2 charge, these reforms will save around 2 million self-employed people an average of £350 a year from April.

We are backing small businesses by freezing their business rates, extending retail, hospitality and leisure relief, abolishing compulsory class 2 national insurance payments and reducing class 4 national insurance by one percentage point in today’s autumn statement for growth. Small businesses work so hard for us, and a Conservative Government today are working hard for them.

I turn now to my final measure to back British business. As I have said, since 2010 we have seen the second highest growth in investment of any G7 country. However, if we are to raise productivity, we need to increase business investment further. In 2021, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister introduced the super-deduction for large businesses to further stimulate business investment, and this spring I introduced full expensing for three years. This means that for every £1 million a company invests, it gets £250,000 off its tax bill in the very same year.

The CBI, Make UK, the British Chambers of Commerce, Energy UK and 200 other business leaders from companies including BT Openreach, Siemens and Bosch, have said that making this measure permanent would be the “single most transformational” thing I could do for business investment and growth. The Centre for Policy Studies says it would

“maximise business investment, boost productivity and deliver…higher levels of GDP”.

But because it costs £11 billion a year, I made it clear that I would only do so when it was affordable. Well, with inflation halved, borrowing down and debt falling, today I deliver on that promise: I will today make full expensing permanent. That is the largest business tax cut in modern British history. It means we have not just the lowest headline corporation tax rate in the G7, but its most generous capital allowances.

The OBR says this will increase annual investment by around £3 billion a year and a total of £14 billion over the forecast period. We on this side of the House know that the way to back British business is not to borrow more or subsidise more, but to increase the incentives to invest. We do that today by introducing one of the most generous tax reliefs anywhere in the world, with a huge boost to British competitiveness in an autumn statement for growth—skills, planning and infrastructure reform, pension fund reform, support for innovation industries, levelling up, backing small business and full expensing.

Under Labour, business investment was 9.3% of GDP in real terms. Since 2010, it has been 9.8% of GDP. But today we go further because, taken together, the overall impact of today’s growth measures will be to increase business investment in the UK economy by around £20 billion a year within the decade—nearly 1% of GDP at today’s level. This is the biggest ever boost for business investment in modern times, a decisive step towards closing the productivity gap with other major economies, and the most effective way we can raise wages and living standards for every family in the country.

As well as backing business, Conservatives know that you need to back the people without whose effort no businesses can succeed: the entrepreneur taking risks, the builder working weekends, the nurse working nights, and the jobseeker leaving benefits behind. I will therefore conclude with three further supply-side reforms designed to improve the incentives to work in a modern, dynamic economy.

I begin with welfare, and I want to start by thanking the outstanding Work and Pensions Secretary for his help in developing these reforms. He builds on the work of my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who introduced universal credit. Those reforms helped reduce unemployment, which has fallen by over 1 million, but Opposition Members, to their shame, voted against them 30 times. They think compassion is about giving money; we think it is about giving opportunity.

However, post pandemic, we still have over 7 million adults of working age, excluding students, who are not working, despite there being 1 million vacancies in the economy. Many can and want to work, but our system makes that too hard. In the spring Budget, I announced 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of one and two-year-olds. That plan, still opposed by the party opposite, starts rolling out in April. It will help tens of thousands of parents return to work without having to worry about damaging their career prospects.

Today, we focus on helping those with sickness or disability and the long-term unemployed. Every year, we sign off over 100,000 people on to benefits with no requirement to look for work because of sickness or disability. That waste of potential is wrong economically and wrong morally. So with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, last week I announced our back to work plan. We will reform the fit note process so that treatment rather than time off work becomes the default, we will reform the work capability assessment to reflect greater flexibility and availability of home working after the pandemic, and we will spend £1.3 billion over the next five years to help nearly 700,000 people with health conditions find jobs. Over 180,000 more people will be helped through the universal support programme, and nearly 500,000 more people will be offered treatment for mental health conditions and employment support.

Over the forecast period, the OBR judges that these measures will more than halve the flow of people who are signed off work with no work search requirements. At the same time, we will provide a further £1.3 billion of funding to offer extra help to the 300,000 people who have been unemployed for over a year without any sickness or disability. But we will ask for something in return. If, after 18 months of intensive support, jobseekers have not found a job, we will roll out a programme requiring them to take part in mandatory work placement to increase their skills and improve their employability. If they choose not to engage with the work search process for six months, we will close their case and stop their benefits.

Taken together with the labour supply measures I announced in the spring, the OBR says we will increase the number of people in work by around 200,000 by the end of the forecast period, permanently increasing the size of the economy. I know that some on the Opposition Benches would prefer to fill those vacancies in a different way; they hanker after a more liberal immigration regime or even dream of bringing back free movement. But Conservatives say that we should unlock the potential we have right here at home. We do that with the biggest set of welfare reforms in a decade in today’s autumn statement for growth.

If we are to incentivise work, we must also tackle low pay. People who get up early, put in the hours and work hard for their families deserve to be paid fairly. Since 2010, those on the minimum wage—now the national living wage—have seen their hourly wage go up from £5.80 an hour to £10.42 an hour. That is a real-terms increase of more than 20%. Because we have also doubled the threshold at which they pay tax or national insurance, their after-tax income has gone up not by 20%, but by 25%—more than for any other income group.

Today, I confirm that we will go further and accept the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation to increase the national living wage by 9.8% to £11.44 an hour. That is the largest-ever cash increase in the national living wage, worth up to £1,800 for a full-time worker. Since the national living wage has been introduced, the proportion of people on low pay—defined as earning less than two thirds of national median hourly income—has halved, but at the new rate of £11.44 an hour it delivers our manifesto commitment to eliminate low pay altogether. That means that by next year someone working full time on the national living wage will see their real take-home, after-tax pay go up not by 25%, but by 30% compared with 2010.

And that is the difference: the Labour party tried to reduce poverty by tinkering with benefits and tax credits—they wanted to move people from just below the poverty line to just above it—but Conservatives know that the best way to tackle poverty is through work. By reforming the welfare system, reducing the number of workless households and tackling low pay, we have helped lift 1.7 million people out of absolute poverty since 2010, because a central part of our plan for growth is to make work pay.

I move to the final supply-side measure in today’s autumn statement for growth. Because of the difficult decisions that we have taken in the last year, today’s OBR forecast shows that borrowing will be lower than forecast in the spring, debt as a proportion of GDP will be lower than forecast in the spring, inflation will continue to fall and our fiscal headroom has doubled. I said I would cut taxes when we could, but only responsibly and only in a way that did not fuel inflation. The OBR today confirms that I can deliver a package that does that.

For businesses, I have today delivered the biggest business tax cut in modern British history, with the most competitive investment allowances of any large economy. For the self-employed, I have simplified and reformed their taxes by abolishing the compulsory class 2 charge and cutting class 4 national insurance. But high employment taxes on 27 million people working in the public and private sectors also disincentivise the hard work that we should be encouraging. On top of income tax at 20%, they pay 12% national insurance on earnings between £12,570 and £50,270. That is a 32% marginal tax rate. If we want people to get up early in the morning, if we want them to work nights, and if we want an economy where people go the extra mile and work hard, we need to recognise that their hard work benefits us all.

So today I am going to cut the main 12% rate of employee national insurance. If I cut it by one percentage point to 11%, that would be an extra £225 in the pockets of the average worker every year. But instead I am going to go further and cut the main rate of employee national insurance by two percentage points, from 12% to 10%. That change will help 27 million people. It means that someone on the average salary of £35,000 will save over £450. For the average nurse, it is a saving of £520. For the typical police officer, it is a saving of £630 every single year. I would normally bring in such a measure for the start of the new tax year in April, but instead I will tomorrow introduce urgent legislation to bring it in from 6 January, so that people can see the benefit in their payslips at the start of the new year.

The OBR says that reducing a tax on work means more people in work, and it says that today’s measures on national insurance alone will lead to the equivalent of 94,000 full-time employees in our economy, because lower tax means higher growth. That is the difference between those of us on this side of the House and those on that side. In 13 years, Labour raised taxes in every single Budget, but Conservatives cut taxes when we responsibly can, and today we do just that. We cut taxes to help bigger businesses invest. We cut taxes to help smaller businesses grow. We cut taxes for the self-employed who keep our country running, and from January we cut taxes for 27 million working people whose hard work drives our economy forward.

The best universities, the cleverest scientists and the smartest entrepreneurs have given us Europe’s most innovative economy, but we can be the most prosperous too. In the face of global challenges, we have halved inflation, reduced our debt and grown our economy. As a country, we are sticking to a plan that is working. This autumn statement for growth will attract £20 billion of additional business investment a year in the next decade, bring tens of thousands of people into work and support our fastest growing industries, in a package that leaves borrowing lower, leaves debt lower and keeps inflation falling. We are delivering the biggest business tax cut in modern British history, the largest ever cut to employee and self-employed national insurance, and the biggest package of tax cuts to be implemented since the 1980s. It is an autumn statement for a country that has turned a corner; an autumn statement for growth. I commend it to the House.