UK unveils budget plans as workers stage strikes

The United Kingdom’s finance minister, Jeremy Hunt, has hailed his plan aimed at speeding up a stagnating economy as tens of thousands of workers who are furious with the government went on strike, calling for better working conditions and wages that would allow them to navigate a worsening cost-of-living crisis.

Hunt yesterday unveiled childcare and tax reforms to get more people into work and corporate tax breaks to boost low levels of business investment as he presented his budget in parliament to jeers from the opposition Labour Party, which is riding high in opinion polls ahead of an election expected next year.

The chancellor of the Exchequer said the world’s sixth biggest economy was now expected to avoid a recession this year — even if it is still set to contract.

“In the face of enormous challenges, I report today on a British economy which is proving the doubters wrong,” Hunt said.

“In the autumn we took difficult decisions to deliver stability and sound money,” said Hunt, who was rushed in to head the Treasury in October and undo the plans for tax cuts that sowed chaos in financial markets during Liz Truss’s brief premiership.

“Since mid-October, 10-year gilt rates have fallen, debt servicing costs are down, mortgage rates are lower and inflation has peaked,” he told parliament. “The International Monetary Fund says our approach means the UK economy is on the right track.”

After the shocks of Brexit, Covid-19 and double-digit inflation, the UK econ economy is the only one among the Group of Seven nations yet to recover to its pre-pandemic size, having already suffered a decade of near-stagnant income growth.

Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak resisted calls from some lawmakers in the ruling Conservative Party for big tax cuts, focusing instead on debt rules announced late last year to calm the chaos in the UK’s bond markets.

But Hunt found money to extend the government’s energy bill subsidies for households by a further three months and a decade-long fuel duty freeze by another year. — Al Jazeera

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