Sunak delivers Budget to meet 'challenging times'

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his first Budget, and the first since the UK's departure from the European Union, against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Chancellor announced a £30 billion stimulus package to support the economy through coronavirus contagion and pledged to give the NHS whatever extra resources are needed to cope. 

Following the news that the Bank of England had reduced interest rates to 0.25%, in an emergency response to the coronavirus, Mr Sunak put further measures in place. 

These include Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for employees who are advised to self-isolate, even if they are displaying no symptoms. The government will also meet some SSP costs for businesses.

In addition, business rates for shops, cinemas, restaurants and music venues in England with a rateable value below £51,000 have been suspended for a year. This tax holiday will be worth up to £25,000 to thousands of businesses across the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. 

Citing the latest economic forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, Mr Sunak said the economy is predicted to grow by 1.1% this year. However, the GDP forecast does not fully account for the impact of coronavirus. 

Turning to duties, tax on beer, wine, cider and spirits have been frozen while tobacco duty will continue to rise by inflation plus 2%. Fuel duty will also remain frozen, for a tenth consecutive year, despite widespread speculation that it would rise. However, Mr Sunak introduced other green measures including a new tax on plastic packaging and freezing the climate change levy on electricity while raising it on gas. The Chancellor also promised to spend £500 million to support the rollout of new rapid charging hubs for electric cars.

In addition, Mr Sunak resisted calls to end Entrepreneurs' Relief, although the lifetime allowance will be reduced from £10 million to £1 million. The Chancellor will abolish the so-called 'tampon tax', reducing the VAT rate on sanitary products to zero from 1 January 2021, as well as scrapping VAT on digital e-publications, including e-books, e-newspapers, e-magazines and academic e-journals, from 1 December 2020.

The Budget confirmed increased spending on infrastructure projects including broadband, railway and roads. £5 billion was promised to get gigabit-capable broadband into the hardest to reach places and £510 million of new investment into the shared rural mobile phone network.

Budget Highlights

  • A reduction in the Entrepreneurs' Relief lifetime limit
  • An increase in the Employment Allowance
  • An increase in the rate of Structures and Buildings Allowance
  • An increase and extension of business rates discounts
  • Extended access to Statutory Sick Pay due to coronavirus
  • An increase to the National Insurance thresholds
  • Fuel duty to be frozen for the 10th consecutive year

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