Jeremy Hunt’s perks will help millions work again

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The employment perks are expected to include tax breaks for over-50s who keep working, plus extra “mid-life MoTs” by financial advisers who will check that employees thinking of early retirement really can afford to quit.

The Chancellor vowed yesterday: “We will look at the conditions necessary to make work worth your while.”

With 6.6 million economically inactive, he said the UK must tackle urgently a staff shortage in a bid to drive economic growth, with more than five million people currently not wanting to work – a fifth of all employable adults.

Mr Hunt outlined a “shocking waste of talent and potential” posed by 6.6 million people who are economically inactive.

Disability claims are up 70 percent since the pandemic and it is estimated that the annual cost will soar to £8.2billion by 2027.

Speaking in central London, he said: “If companies can’t employ the staff they need, they can’t grow. So to those who retired early after the pandemic or haven’t found the right role after furlough, I say ‘Britain needs you’.”

“And we will look at the conditions necessary to make work worth your while.”

“It’s time for a fundamental programme of reforms to support people with long-term conditions or mental illness to overcome the barriers and prejudices that prevent them from working.”

The Chancellor said ministers want to introduce the most competitive tax system of any major nation and to use Brexit as a catalyst for long-term prosperity.

But he added: “We will never harness the full potential of our country unless we unlock it for each and every one of our citizens.”

“Nor will we fix our productivity puzzle unless everyone who can participate, does.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride is leading an overhaul of the employment system following evidence that millions of people have opted out of the labour market since Covid.

One option is attaching more conditions or tightening existing restrictions to welfare benefits to reduce the annual £122billion bill.

Claimants are likely to have to follow extra rules such as spending a specific amount of time looking for a job. Ministers are also considering making it harder to claim handouts so more people see work as a better financial option.

Another idea is expanding the provision of financial MoTs where financial advisers will sit down with employees considering early retirement to ensure they can afford it.

More people in work means a bonus of higher tax revenue. It would stimulate economic growth as well as limit the numbers of the elderly who fall on hard times.

Around one fifth of working-age adults are economically inactive. That includes students, parents caring for children and people with long-term illnesses plus early retirees – and those who have simply decided work is not worth the time.

The Daily Express understands ministers are drawing up plans to tackle economic inactivity among these different groups, with a variety of tactics under consideration.

Those returning to work might also be able to keep disability benefits to avoid “incentivising” them to stay off work.

Tory MPs have called for tax cuts but the Chancellor said the “best tax cut right now is a cut in inflation”, effectively ruling out action on that front in the spring Budget.

Mr Hunt added: “My party understands better than others the importance of low taxes in creating incentives and fostering the animal spirits that spur economic growth.”

“Another Conservative insight is that risk-taking by individuals and businesses can only happen when governments provide economic and financial stability.”

He laid out a plan for Brexit to be a “catalyst” while announcing measures designed to increase prosperity beyond Southeast England. Mr Hunt said he wanted to reverse a “declinism” attitude, claiming that the economy had “grown at about the same rate as Germany” since the 2016 EU poll.

He said Brexit could be a chance to “create an economic environment which is more innovation-friendly and more growth-focused.”

“Our plan for growth is necessitated, energised and made possible by Brexit. The desire to move to a high-wage, high-skill economy is one shared on all sides.”

Mr Hunt added: “We need to make Brexit a catalyst for the bold choices that will take advantage of the nimbleness and flexibilities that it makes possible.”

Unveiling plans to drive regional economic prosperity, he said the Treasury will identify investment zone sites that could be “mini-Canary Wharfs”. Regeneration of docklands has created a major financial centre in east London.

The Chancellor vowed to provide “high-potential but underperforming areas” with “advantageous fiscal treatment” to attract investment and said work on identifying sites would start shortly.

Prof Len Shackleton, of the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said helping people back into work would raise output and even lead to a cut in benefits spending:

“However this has very little to do with the ‘productivity puzzle’.”

“Many of those the Chancellor wants to get back into jobs will be low-productivity workers not highly trained, skilled…”

“It will take quite a lot to tempt high-end workers, with big pensions, to give up the golf course. Boosting productivity significantly would require a serious attempt to deregulate in areas such as housing, legacy European laws and the labour market, and cutting business and personal tax. There is no sign of this from the Government, alas.”

Tony Danker, CBI director-general, said: “It’s only by improving the UK’s languishing performance on productivity that we can realise the huge economic potential. We hope the Budget in less than two months will show strong actions.”

Tory MP Nickie Aiken said: “As a woman in her 50s, I’m not ready to retire. People in their 50s and 60s have an awful lot to offer businesses, mentoring and providing advice and support. Anything that incentivises people, it’s not about cracking the whip”

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