National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:22 pm ar 12 Rhagfyr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Livermore Lord Livermore Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:22, 12 Rhagfyr 2023

My Lords, the Labour Party supports this Bill, and we welcome the cuts in national insurance that it contains. We have long argued that taxes on working people are too high, and that we want them to be lower.

We have been consistent in this view. We opposed the manifesto-breaking increase in national insurance that the Prime Minister tried to implement last year, when he was Chancellor. When he introduced his 1.25% increase in national insurance contributions for employees and employers—his so-called health and social care levy—we described it at the time as

“a new tax on working people and their jobs”.—[

When it became clear to him that the Labour Party was correct to say that this was the worst possible tax rise at the worst possible time, he attempted a partial U-turn, and then, eventually, the increase in national insurance was rightly reversed.

Unfortunately for working people, this reprieve to their living standards was short-lived, as it was quickly followed by the Government’s disastrous mini-Budget, which crashed the economy and sent interest rates and mortgage rates soaring. Interest rates have now risen 14 times to a 15-year high of 5.25%, while the average two-year fixed-rate mortgage at one point rose from 2.6% to over 6%. As a result, families re-mortgaging since July have seen their mortgage payments rise by an average of £220 per month. Some 1.6 million families have seen their mortgage deals end this year. Next year, a further 1.5 million families will face a similar fate.

According to the Resolution Foundation, this Parliament is now on course to be the first ever in which real household incomes fall. We are now seeing the biggest ever fall in living standards since records began. The cut in national insurance that the Bill contains is not the full story on tax, nor does it represent the reality that many British people now face.

Despite what the Government would like us to believe, and in contrast to the claim the Minister made in her opening speech that the Government are paying back working people, the reality—as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation and the House of Commons Library have all made clear—is that taxes are going up, not down. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, implied, it is important that we are all honest about that point. The truth is that the tax burden will now rise every single year for the next five years, rising to its highest ever level and making this the biggest tax-raising Parliament ever. Indeed, new data published just this week by the OECD showed that the UK’s tax burden has now increased to its highest rate ever on record.

Prior to the Autumn Statement that announced the cut in national insurance we are debating today, the Government had already put in place 25 tax rises amounting to £90 billion and the equivalent of a 10p increase in national insurance. This 2p cut does not remotely compensate for the tax increases already announced. As my noble friend Lord Sikka pointed out, the Resolution Foundation has calculated that, even after this cut to national insurance, households will still be £1,900 worse off.

These cuts to personal taxation are more than eclipsed by increases in taxes that the Government have previously announced. For example, the freezing of national insurance and income tax thresholds for six years is now expected to cost taxpayers £45 billion. This fiscal drag means that nearly 4 million more people will pay income tax and 3 million more people will pay the higher rate. The combined effect is an average tax rise of £1,200 per household.

According to Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the cut in national insurance rates

“pales into … insignificance alongside the … increase in personal taxes created by the six year freeze in allowances and thresholds”.

The IFS has calculated that, extraordinarily, almost every single person in the UK liable for income tax or national insurance will now be paying higher taxes overall. As a result, the tax burden will now reach 37.7% of GDP by the end of the forecast period, an increase equivalent to an astonishing £4,300 of additional tax for every household in the country. This is a tax- raising Government.

The actual lived experience of the British people is not that their taxes are going down; it is that their taxes are going up. The reality that working people face is not that they will be better off; it is that they will be worse off. We should all be honest about that fact. We should be honest, too, about the reasons why: taxes are so high in this country because growth is so low. The UK’s growth record over the past 13 years has been poor by international standards. We have languished in the bottom third of OECD countries, with 27 OECD economies growing faster than us since 2010. Over the next two years, no fewer than 177 countries are forecast by the IMF to grow faster than the UK. For this year and next, we will be 35th out of 38 OECD countries for growth.

The latest outturn figures for GDP show that there was no growth at all in the third quarter of this year. In the Autumn Statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility downgraded its forecast for growth in each of the next three years, so that growth in 2024 is now forecast to be just 0.7%—more than half the 1.8% predicted as recently as the Budget in March. The Bank of England’s view is that even that is too optimistic; its latest forecast shows no growth at all in any of the next three years—no growth this year, next year or in 2025.

That is the economic reality faced by the British people—the reality of 13 years of failure. Growth and living standards are down; mortgage rates and taxes are up. The tax burden will now rise every single year for the next five years, rising to its highest ever level and making this the biggest tax-raising Parliament ever, with an average tax rise of £1,200 per household. While the cut to national insurance is welcome, the British people will conclude that it is simply too little, too late.