Autumn Statement 2023 tipped to prioritise mental health, in a boost for UK workplaces

Jeremy Hunt will use Autumn Statement 2023 in November to target mental health at work, in a bid to address labour shortages.

The chancellor’s expected focus on cutting the number of workers inactive due to mental health issues was not flagged up last month in his Mansion House speech, in which he outlined ways to strengthen London’s financial credentials.

But Mr Hunt will ask Mel Stride for a potential showpiece for his Autumn Statement, as the minister who introduced the loan charge has been working on “tax breaks and subsidies for workplace occupational health services,” the Financial Times reported.

The newspaper signalled the two MPs believe such measures are vital, in wake of the 2.6million people who have indirectly worsened skills shortages, and hiked the disability benefits bill, by being off work with long-term illness.

'Ways to keep workers healthy'

Stride’s page on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) last week confirmed that he has been “consulting with employers on ways to keep workers healthy,” and is exploring how to “reduce the numbers out of work due to long-term sickness.”

Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that such health-related economic inactivity by working-age individuals is significant, costing the government almost £16billion more a year since the onset of coronavirus.

Like many other workers, contractors suffer from burnout, and need help with mental health issues triggered by or exacerbated in the cost-of-living crisis.

'Systematic review of 1,000 tax reliefs'

But contractors' focus on Mr Hunt at his second Autumn Statement will likely be elsewhere, as their advisers are starting to indicate.

Andrew Park, a specialist at defending individuals from HMRC tax investigations notes that the government has been asked to run “a systematic review into the cost of over 1,000 tax reliefs which complicate the tax system and are open to abuse.”

Issued by the Treasury Select Committee, the call went onto to detail how less than one-third of the 1,000 tax reliefs were subject to an official cost analysis.

The committee says all such reliefs should be regarded as a form of public spending, with HMRC required to fully cost all 1,00 reliefs, by tax year 2025/26. 

'Get the professional advice'

Sounding aware HMRC guidance is also scheduled for improvement, Mr Park, a partner at accountancy firm Price Bailey said: “Many taxpayers don't get the professional advice they should [in the first place], to ensure that they claim the reliefs they're rightly entitled to.”

But it is not the only part of the UK tax system used by contractors which has been under scrutiny -- potentially for a turnaround as soon as Mr Hunt’s autumn address.

Louise Rayner, boss of contractor accountancy firm NumberMill observes that the government has been handed a critique of Making Tax Digital by both the NAO and PAC.

'MTD rollercoaster'

“The MTD journey has been quite a rollercoaster…[and the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee] members didn’t hold back in their assessments,” she says.

“Not only that, the MTD project has been postponed five times and is currently eight years late! Now it's finally reaching a crucial turning point…what [might] the government do?”

Steve Mason, who also advises contractors -- albeit on insolvency and closing a company, took to LinkedIn to point out that even disaffected contractors might have reason to ‘vote Conservative’ after Autumn Statement 2023.

“Downing Street are said to be discussing [ending inheritance tax as a] measure to win votes in ‘blue wall’ seats in the next general election,” wrote Mason, referring to reported IHT talks between Hunt and prime minister Rishi Sunak.

'Investment in infrastrucutre'

But the chancellor put any scrapping of IHT in context, saying the PM’s aim to halve inflation would take priority over any tax cuts, in line with his warnings to taxpayers last month about Autum Statement 2023’s contents.

In response to a growth ‘wishlist’ submitted to Hunt, the head of system infrastructure for East West Rail, Ken Foster, said after the chancellor’s Budget in the spring:

“The single biggest engine for growth is investment in infrastructure, particularly transport infrastructure.

“That is where the government should be investing currently, along with energy self-sufficiency to secure sustainable growth in the UK. Sadly, both were absent in any tangible way [in Hunt’s statement], except for a few projects which have been in progress for years if not decades.”

On Friday, Ofgem announced a new lower energy price cap which energy suppliers can charge (£1,923), but the regulator cautioned that it “can’t offer any certainty” on costs easing this winter, indicating Hunt will likely need to address high bills for households, now that universal government support has ended.

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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