BUDGET 2023: Is this just what the doctor ordered?
WE'RE living in an era when the majority of the Budget content has already been leaked before the Chancellor gets anywhere near the despatch box.
Yet Jeremy Hunt’s back-to-work statement still managed to produce a couple of eye-catching nuggets which might just be what the doctor ordered by removing a huge barrier to experienced medical professionals staying in employment.
The Chancellor acted to address the unfilled jobs blighting the UK economy - where there are one million vacancies yet seven million adults, mostly over 50 (an historically undervalued demographic), not in work.
He said he will increase the number of people who get the best possible financial, health and career guidance ahead of retirement by enhancing the government's 'Mid-life MoTs' strategy, and he'll also introduce a new kind of apprenticeship targeted at the over 50s who want to return to work.
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Called 'Returnerships', they will operate alongside skills boot camps and sector-based work academies, bringing together existing skills programmes to make them more appealing for older workers, focusing on flexibility and previous experience to reduce training length.
Alongside that, the Chancellor also said the £40,000 cap on tax-free annual pensions contributions will rise to £60,000, which will come alongside a decision to scrap the lifetime allowance (LTA) on pension savings.
It had been due to stand at £1.07 million until 2026, but Mr Hunt said removing the threshold would simplify the tax system and “incentivise our most experienced and productive workers to stay in work for longer”.
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The pension taxation rules have financially penalised thousands of senior doctors, leaving many with little option but to reduce their hours or retire early - just at a time when patients are on ever growing waiting lists, desperately needing the expert care that senior doctors provide.
Labelled by the British Medical Association as “doctors' pension tax”, this particular fiscal policy has been a huge barrier to experienced doctors staying in employment.
BMA NI Council chair Dr Tom Black believes the changes will reduce the unfair extra tax bills many doctors were facing and will hopefully mean they will reconsider retiring early.
But he said there is still a need to fix an over complicated taxation system and address other pensions and pay issues in Northern Ireland including employer pension contribution recycling and the slow application of pay uplifts.
The Chancellor went ahead with his promise to hike corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent - exactly double that of the north's nearest neighbour in the Republic.
That's a whopping 31 per cent rise in real terms for medium and large companies and will potentially add £12 billion in tax revenue each year at the expense of businesses with profits of more than £250,000.
Talk about a barrier to growth, and you do wonder how this can encourage economic growth in a time when paying the tax bills is already difficult for businesses.
Much of the hour-long Budget presentation was 'rinse and repeat' (the obligatory 'we're fixing the rood while the sun is shining' line was trotted out as usual).
And, yet again, there was mention of new investment zones, with at least one in Northern Ireland.
We've heard that before of course. But this time it came with the caveat that the final design choices and agreement on such a zone here will be subject to the restoration of the Stormont Executive.