Estimated reading time 5 minutes 5 Min

UK Labour presents alternative to ‘out of control’ Tories after market chaos

The UK’s opposition Labour party has sought to portray itself as a responsible alternative government as market panic continued over Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

September 27, 2022
By David Hughes, Richard Wheeler, Ben Hatton and Amy Gibbons, PA Political Staff
27 September 2022

The UK’s opposition Labour party has sought to portray itself as a responsible alternative government as market panic continued over Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour would reinstate the top income tax rate of 45 per cent on earnings above £150,000 and use the money generated to train more district nurses, health visitors and midwives.

On a day which saw the pound crash to its lowest level for at least half a century and the Bank of England issue a statement saying it “will not hesitate” to raise interest rates, Reeves said she offered an alternative to the “out of control” Tories.

 
 

Kwarteng will set out a plan on November 23 giving further details on the Government’s fiscal rules, including ensuring that debt falls as a share of GDP in the medium term in an attempt to ease market jitters.

But Reeves said that was too long to wait: “Is he looking at what is happening on the financial markets? Has he noticed the reaction to his fiscal statement on Friday?

“It is grossly irresponsible.”

She said she wanted the public to know she would be a responsible chancellor and “that there is somebody there ready to get a grip of the situation we face right now”.

“The Tories are out of control, they have got the wrong priorities.”

Sir Keir Starmer told the party’s conference in Liverpool: “People are now looking to the Labour Party for the answers to the huge challenges that so many millions of people face, that is what’s here at this conference.”

The party leader said there was a “sense that we are really a government in waiting” and “that confidence is worth its weight in gold”.

The pound fell to the lowest level against the US dollar since decimalisation in 1971, dropping by more than 4% to just 1.03 dollars before regaining some ground as trading picked up on Monday.

Labour Party Conference 2022
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves delivers her keynote speech (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said the institution will not “hesitate to change interest rates by as much as needed”, after the plummeting of the pound prompted market speculation of an emergency intervention by Threadneedle Street.

The extraordinary response to Kwarteng’s mini-budget has galvanised Labour, with Sir Keir keen to talk up his chances of becoming the next prime minister.

He will use his keynote speech on Tuesday to set out his vision for the country.

In her set piece conference speech, Reeves said a Labour administration would implement the “biggest expansion of medical school places in British history” in a bid to ensure the NHS has the “doctors it needs”.

Kwarteng last week announced that, from April, the 660,000 earners getting more than £150,000 a year will no longer pay the top income tax rate of 45 per cent and will instead pay the 40 per cent applicable to those on more than £50,271.

Labour said reversing this cut would raise more than £2 billion a year, which it would funnel into boosting the NHS workforce.

In England, the party’s plan involves doubling the number of doctors trained each year, from 7,500 to 15,000, at an annual cost of up to £1.1 billion.

Labour would also spend an annual £20 million doubling the number of district nurses qualifying per year, from 700 to 1,400.

It would invest an annual £100 million in 1,000 new health visitors per year, to provide high quality care for the community.

And it would create an extra 10,000 nursing and midwifery clinical placements every year, at an annual cost of £51 million.

Scotland and Wales will get equivalent funding, with the cost of the package peaking at an annual £1.6 billion over the next parliament.

Pressed on where this cash would actually come from, given that the tax cut the party plans to reverse to source the money is set to be funded by borrowing, a Labour source said: “Obviously we’ll have to see the fiscal situation when we get to the election.”

Labour would also produce a long-term workforce plan for the NHS for the next five, 10 and 15 years.

Labour Party Conference 2022
Party leader Sir Keir Starmer listens to shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves (Peter Byrne/PA)

In a “pro-business” and “pro-worker” speech, Reeves also confirmed a pledge to guarantee a minimum wage that “reflects the real cost of living” if she becomes chancellor.

The Labour source said the party would work with the Low Pay Commission to determine how much this would be.

Although Labour is committed to reinstating the 45p income tax rate, it backed the decision to cut the basic rate by 1p to 19p.

Reeves suggested Labour would pay for the tax cut with borrowing, insisting it was just the scale of the Government’s plans that had “spooked the markets”.

“When I set out my fiscal rules last year, I said that in emergency situations – and we are absolutely in a national emergency at the moment – you can borrow and the government is borrowing, it’s the scale of the borrowing…” she said.

The Labour source also confirmed the party would keep the corporation tax rise which had been planned for April until scrapped by Kwarteng, but stressed this would need to go “alongside targeted investment allowances”.

More in Business