Politics

Fat jokes and short-term thinking: Experts react to Jeremy Hunt's 'sticking plaster' Spring Budget

Jeremy Hunt has been slammed for making the 'worst Budget Day joke in history'

Jeremy Hunt delivering his 2024 spring budget

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has delivered the 2024 spring budget. Image: Parliament TV

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget, expected to be his last, has been described as a “sticking plaster”, “without logic” and “disproportionately benefiting the richest households” by economists, analysts and experts alike.

Announcing this year’s Spring Budget on Wednesday (6 March), Hunt explained there will be a six month extension to the household support fund, a 2p cut to National Insurance, and a new tax on vapes, among other measures.

Reaction to the budget announcement was mixed, with some analysts welcoming an extension to the household support fund, a scheme which provides cash and vouchers for essentials, described as a “lifeline for families.”

Other announcements, like a £1m commitment to building a memorial for Muslim soldiers who fought in First and Second World Wars, were described as “inadequate” as Islamophobia in the UK rises.

Meanwhile, journalist Shehab Khan described the allocation as a “very touching way to start the budget.”

The cut to fuel duty was also slammed by climate groups, with climate charity Possible claiming there is “no logic to freezing fuel duty.”

“Fuel duty might be frozen, but the planet is getting hotter and hotter,” the charity told Big Issue. “The chancellor should stop distorting the true price of petrol and diesel, and instead spend this £5bn on public transport and active travel.”

Disability charity Sense added that the budget has “done little” to help disabled people across the UK.

“Many disabled people are teetering on a financial cliff edge, and today’s budget has done little to help them back from the brink,” Richard Kramer, chief executive Sense, said.

“While the extension of the household support fund is a relief compared to the alternative, by only extending it for six months families will be left high and dry next winter. 

“Disabled households are in desperate need of more support and long-term solutions.”

National Insurance cut

A 2p cut to National Insurance was announced, as expected, during the Spring Budget, with Hunt confirming that employee National Insurance will be cut from 10% to 8% and self-employed National Insurance will be cut from 8% to 6%.

Experts explained, however, that the National Insurance cut will benefit those on higher wages more.

“Gives £750 to an MP, but only £250 to a newly-qualified nurse – and nothing to a part-time care worker,” journalist Andrew Fisher wrote.

John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, added: “Any move to put a bit more money in people’s pockets is welcome. But what people really want is investment in their public services – the very services that National Insurance pays for.  

“This National Insurance cut will see those on the lowest incomes lose out because of the freezes on the thresholds for paying, with people earning less than £27,000 actually ending up worse off.”

The household support fund

A six-month extension to the household support fund has been “welcomed” by experts, but also described as a “sticking plaster” for those who need longer-term relief.

“Extending the household support fund is the right decision – BUT it is just a sticking plaster for the next six months. The impact of the cost of living crisis won’t be over then,” senior economist for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Rachelle Earwaker, said.

Founder of MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis added that there is “high demand” for the household support fund to help the “most desperate”, and that in his opinion, the fund will “probably need extending again” after the end of the six month period.

Sabine Goodwin, director of the Independent Food Aid Network, told Big Issue: “Extending the HSF is far from the solution to the UK’s policy-driven poverty crisis but it will certainly go some way to temporarily help food insecure households as well as food banks to get through the next few months.

“We hope this six-month extension is the first step towards ensuring crisis support is permanently in place, well-funded, well-promoted and easily accessible in local authorities across England.”

‘Bad taste’

Jeremy Hunt was also criticised for making a “bad taste” fat joke during the Spring Budget announcement, repeating comments by Labour peer Peter Mandelson that Keir Starmer “needs to shed a few pounds.”

“If he [Starmer] wants to join me on my marathon training he’s most welcome,” Hunt added.

ITV journalist Tom Bradby slammed the joke, claiming it was the “worst Budget Day joke in history.”

“Jeremy Hunt spending rather too much time in the Budget addressing the opposition benches and not the public,” he wrote on Twitter/X.

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