Hunt criticised by watchdog for misleading tax claims in Budget speech

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been criticised by the official statistics watchdog for misleading claims in his spring Budget speech that the Government was bringing down taxes.

The Chancellor said in his March 6 speech that “today … a Conservative Government brings down taxes”, which would most likely be interpreted as referring to the overall tax burden, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) said.

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney had written to the UKSA saying that the Chancellor would be largely understood to be referring to the overall tax burden falling or the personal tax burden falling, neither of which were the case.

Sir Robert Chote, chairman of the UKSA, responded in a letter: “The average person would be likely to interpret the Chancellor’s claim to ‘bring down taxes’ as referring to the overall tax burden.”

Sir Robert also noted that “intelligent transparency demands that ministers consider how someone with an interest, but little specialist knowledge, is likely to understand what they say”.

HM Treasury told the statistics watchdog that the claims in the speech related to a paragraph in the spring Budget document that noted a £20 billion tax cut to national insurance contributions, Sir Robert said.

But that paragraph referred to cuts based on the combined size of tax measures from the spring Budget 2023, autumn statement 2023, and spring Budget 2024 in 2028/29 as a percentage of GDP, Sir Robert wrote.

“The OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) has also forecast that the cuts to national insurance rates will be offset by other policy decisions such as freezing national insurance and income tax thresholds,” he said.

Ms Olney said: “Jeremy Hunt has been caught out for misleading the public after years of unfair tax hikes and dragging millions into higher rates of tax.

“This is desperate stuff from a desperate Chancellor and it is right that he has been called out on it. Jeremy Hunt should apologise to voters for these misleading claims.”