This blog originally appeared at the CLASS think tank.
Today Rishi Sunak announced a £30bn package to support jobs. This is on top of £160bn in spending already announced to deal with the crisis.
In usual circumstances this would be a lot of money, especially from a Conservative chancellor. But many have already questioned whether it’s enough given the scale of the economic turbulence we’re facing. The Labour shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds dismissed it as “barely touching the sides”.
As well as more spending, Sunak revealed £8bn of tax cuts. Firstly, he has cut stamp duty on houses worth less than £500,000 until next March. This is an expensive policy, coming in at £3.8bn. The main result is likely to be higher house prices, as opposed to helping people get on the property ladder or doing anything for renters. It appears that the cut is structured in such a way that property investors and those buying second homes will also benefit. Shelter estimates that up to 230,000 people face eviction when the Covid-19 ban on evictions is lifted in August. Stamp duty is a bad tax, but this cut does very little to solve the broader problems with the housing market.
Secondly, the chancellor has cut VAT from 20% to 5% for six months for the hospitality sector. The impact of this is more nuanced. It’s likely to put more cash in the pockets of hard hit businesses who are struggling and have spent money on making their premises suitable for social distancing. This is good.
However, the big barrier to recovery for cafes, restaurants and hotels is people holding back from spending because of fear of catching coronavirus. While infections are still relatively high, and a second wave is possible, it’s hard to see things returning to normal.
Today demonstrated that there is a new consensus emerging in favour of higher government spending. The Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed that “austerity is over”. We must hold him to this promise. This means we’ll need a public conversation about how to support a bigger state. As Anneliese Dodds pointed out in her response to the budget announcements, tax rises in a recession are a bad idea as they dampen demand.
But in the long run, higher taxes are on the cards. As I argued in the Huffington Post this morning, politicians should look to taxing wealth as part of the solution. In the UK, wealth inequality is double that of income inequality, and we under-tax wealth. That’s why Tax Justice UK, along with 16 other organisations, are calling for ambitious tax reform to support a fairer and greener future.