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Budget 2021

In the year since the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered his first Budget to a packed Commons chamber in March 2020, more than 135,000 people in the UK have died from Coronavirus, there have been three national lockdowns, the economy has shrunk by 9.9 per cent and Coronavirus support measures have cost around £280 billion.

As a result, Government borrowing – the budget deficit – is expected to rise from a forecasted £55 billion to about £355 billion by the end of 2020-21. Meanwhile, national debt is already approaching 100 per cent of GDP at £2.1 trillion and could rise to 120 per cent of GDP during the first half of the decade according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned late last year that around £40 billion of tax rises will be needed by the middle of the decade to keep borrowing down to £80 billion a year and debt down to 100 per cent of GDP, prompting intense speculation that they could come as soon as this Budget.

With the Conservatives having committed in their 2019 General Election Manifesto not to raise the rates of Income Tax, National Insurance or VAT, much of the speculation about possible tax rises was focused on Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Corporation Tax.

At the same time, the Budget came against the background of a growing sense of cautious optimism. More than 20 million people have now been vaccinated against Coronavirus and, just over a week ago, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

In announcing the roadmap out of lockdown, the Prime Minister – echoed by various ministers over the intervening days – all but confirmed the Chancellor would announce further Coronavirus support for businesses and the self-employed at the Budget.

Then, at 10pm the night before the Budget, several major news organisations reported the same details of how the various Coronavirus support measures would be extended, leaving little doubt about what the Chancellor would say on the subject.

The question, then, as Mr Sunak rose to the dispatch box in a virtually deserted Commons chamber, was whether he would increase any taxes immediately or hold off until a later date.


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