Seven takeaways from the Autumn Statement

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed that Britain is in a recession, whilst committing £3.3 billion to the NHS and raising taxes in some areas

LM Statement

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out his “balanced plan for stability” in an Autumn Statement that focused on the importance of bringing down inflation and strengthening public finances today (17 November).

Key takeaways from the Budget included increased spending for health and social care and education, as well as taxes rises.

Making a point that the most vulnerable in society would be protected, the Chancellor also confirmed that pensions and benefits would rise in line with inflation – the latter of which had previously been pushed for by the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Here are seven key takeaways from the Autumn Statement:

1 Britain is in recession

The Chancellor began his speech to the House of Commons by confirming that Britain is now in a recession, with the economy set to shrink by 1.4% in 2023 before beginning to grow again in 2024.

The Office for Budget Responsibility laid blame for the recession on energy prices, driven by the war in Ukraine.

2 Employer National Insurance Contributions fixed until 2028

The threshold for Employer National Insurance (NI) Contributions will be fixed until 2028, Hunt said.

However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) did not welcome this news, with national chair Martin McTague saying: “Freezing the threshold for employer National Insurance at a time of such high inflation is a stealthy hike in the jobs tax, just as recessionary pressures threaten an increase in unemployment.”

McTague added: “This Budget will ramp up the costs of employment without offsetting that with measures to reduce other business costs.”

The Employer Contribution will continue until March 2026, at a higher rate of £5000, meaning 40% of businesses will not be required to pay any NI at all.
McTague called this “one of the few saving graces” of the Statement.

3 Business rates revaluation and a ‘transitional relief scheme’

Hunt emphasised that “it is an important principle that bills should accurately reflect market values,” and said that the Government will “proceed with a revaluation of business properties from April 2023.”

He promised to “soften the blow” on businesses by providing nearly £14 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, meaning “nearly two thirds of properties will not pay a penny more next year.”

There will also be a government-funded ‘transitional relief scheme,’ Hunt said, which will limit how much bills can change due to business rate revaluation and will benefit around 700,000 businesses.

The scheme had previously been called for by the Confederation of British Industry, the British Retail Consortium and the FSB, Hunt said. 

McTague said: “It is welcome news that transitional relief will be changed alongside next year’s revaluation and with an inflationary freeze – avoiding the threat of a huge 10.1% increase in bills. The positive effect will be for those whose valuations go down, who as a result of the change will be paying a fairer level of rates from year one.”

He added: “This is a positive change. As the Chancellor mentioned, FSB has been calling for these changes and it is pleasing to see them being taken onboard.”

4 £3.3 billion committed to the NHS in 2023

Moving on to public services, Hunt said that “overall spending in real terms” will continue to rise over the next five years.

As part of this, he committed £3.3 billion to the NHS in 2023, followed by the same amount in 2024 – an amount that CEO of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, has said “should provide sufficient funding for the NHS to fulfil its key priorities,” according to Hunt.

The Chancellor also committed £1 billion to adult social care in 2023, followed by £1.7 billion in 2024.

He later reaffirmed that the Government will “cut NHS waiting times,” suggesting that this is a key priority for the immediate future.

This echoes the words of new Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, who said that supporting the NHS workforce and the post-pandemic recovery are his top priorities whilst speaking at the NHS Provider Conference in Liverpool yesterday (16 November). 

Barclay added that, with the NHS backlog at 7.1 million, “there is a huge amount to do together to steer health and care through this storm and, crucially, make the changes that will make us better prepared for the future.”

AOP policy director, Carolyn Ruston, said: “With the current challenges, it’s clear that fair and better access to healthcare must remain the priority.

“Like others within primary care, the networks of optometrists working in High Streets up and down the country provides huge potential in helping to alleviate the pressure on GPs. With little to no waiting lists and an already highly skilled clinical workforce it makes simple sense for the system to engage with optometry to help protect patients and ensure they get the expert care they deserve.

“As an example, we know that over a quarter of patients turn to their GP for help when it comes to eye complaints, yet optometrists are far better placed to diagnose and provide treatment in most of these cases.”

5 Report into “economically inactive adults” expected in the New Year

With a workforce crisis causing problems for professions across the country, including in optometry and ophthalmology, the Chancellor emphasised that there are now 630,000 more economically inactive working age adults than they were before the pandemic.

In order to get to the root of why this is, the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS will “publish an independently verified plan for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals we will need in five, 10 and 15 years’ time, taking full account of the need for better retention and productivity improvements.”

6 Benefits to increase in line with inflation

A key measure pushed for by the RNIB, the increase of benefits in line with inflation, was also confirmed in the Autumn Statement.

The RNIB had previously emphasised how the cost of living crisis was hitting blind and partially sighted people, who are more likely to be on benefits than the general population, harder than most. In September, the charity delivered a petition on the issue to Downing Street.

Hunt confirmed that benefits will rise by 10.1%, something that he said would help 10 million working age families receive on average £600 more in 2023. Pensions will also rise by the same amount.

Sophie Dodgeon, RNIB head of policy and public affairs, welcomed the benefits rise, but highlighted that gaps in support remain.

“Blind and partially sighted people will feel relieved to hear that the Chancellor has committed to raising benefits in line with inflation in April, but this should never have been in doubt,” she said.

“Additional support must be provided urgently for people with sight loss above the means test for benefits. The uprating of benefits must be brought in before the winter to avoid unnecessary hardship as prices continue to soar.

“People with sight loss are also twice as likely to live in a household that has a total income of £1500 a month or less and from spring that group will be spending upwards of 16% of their income on energy, which will be challenging for many.”

Dodgeon added: “Hundreds of people have told us about the crippling costs that are causing extreme worry and anxiety. The increase to the energy price cap from April will fix prices at a rate too high for many blind and partially sighted people to bear.

“Blind and partially sighted people are already telling us that they are using less energy to save money, reducing the use of lighting, which is vital to navigating their homes safely, and reducing the use of assistive technologies, which support everyday life and independent living.”

7 A “shared mission” on energy reduction

The Chancellor called energy prices the “single biggest driver of inflation and volatility facing British businesses and consumers.”

Hunt said that there is a “shared mission” for families and businesses when it comes to energy reduction, and that there is a “national ambition” to reduce energy consumption from buildings and industry by 15% by 2030.

The Government will also be investing in this area by adding a further £6 billion of investment by 2025, Hunt said, with an Energy Efficiency Taskforce being launched in the near future.