Chancellor to present Autumn Statement today

Chancellor Philip Hammond is set to present his first Autumn Statement later today, which will outline his priorities for spending, taxation and the UK economy in the wake of considerable political and economic uncertainty generated by the Brexit vote.

The Statement outlines the government’s fiscal plans, and draws on the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

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Marking his first significant fiscal event as Chancellor, Mr Hammond is expected to use his inaugural Autumn Statement to set out plans to significantly increase spending on infrastructure in an effort to boost the UK economy following the vote to leave the EU.

Many expect the Statement to serve as a ‘mini-Budget’, with others anticipating that Mr Hammond will ‘reset’ fiscal policy.

The Chancellor has been urged to overhaul the way in which tax policy is made in the UK, and to establish clear guidelines and priorities for the UK’s tax system.

The Chancellor’s speech will take place at 12:30pm. We’ll be bringing you all of the key headlines from the Autumn Statement, so make sure to keep an eye on our website throughout the afternoon. We’ll also be publishing a full and detailed summary of the Chancellor’s announcements later tonight, ready for you to read tomorrow morning.

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Significant rise in long commutes to work, TUC reveals

The number of workers with daily commutes of two hours or more has risen by 31% over the past five years, analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has revealed.

Based on unpublished Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, the TUC’s analysis shows that, in 2015, 3.7 million employees commuted to work for two hours or longer. This represented an increase of 900,000 since 2010, when the number of workers commuting for two hours or more was 2.8 million.

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The analysis also suggested that workers in the UK spent an average of ten additional hours commuting in 2015 than they did in 2010.

‘Stagnant wages’ and ‘soaring rents and high house prices’ are leaving workers unable to move closer to their place of work, the TUC suggested. It believes that these factors, combined with a lack of investment in roads and railways, may have led to the increase in travelling times.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, commented: ‘None of us like spending ages getting to and from work. Long commutes eat into our family time and can be bad for our working lives too.

‘Employers cannot turn a blind eye to this problem. More home and flexible working would allow people to cut their commutes and save money.’

Chancellor expected to announce plans to ban pension cold calling

Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to use the forthcoming Autumn Statement to announce plans to ban businesses from cold calling retirees.

Eight scam calls are made every second to pensioners in the UK, according to the Treasury. It also estimates that, between April 2015 and March 2016, pensioners lost an estimated £19 million to criminals, with 11 million individuals having been targeted by cold callers.

In a statement on the matter, the Treasury said: ‘Cold calls often present scams as unique investment opportunities, such as investing your pension pot in a new hotel in an exotic location or in various ‘ethical’ projects that promise massive returns.’

Under the government’s proposals, all calls where a business has no existing relationship with the individual will be banned.

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To deter businesses from making such cold calls, the government could enforce fines of up to £500,000.

However, the ban would not be extended to prevent nuisance texts or emails.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, commented: ‘The government’s ban on pension cold calls is the right move to protect people. The power to fine scammers also means enforcement bodies will be able to put a stop to any scammers that still target people’s savings.’

Savers should be warned about Lifetime ISA risks, financial regulator suggests

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has suggested that Lifetime ISA providers should warn savers of the potential risks associated with the new savings vehicle.

Announced in this year’s Budget, the Lifetime ISA will be available to savers from April 2017, and is designed to permit individuals under the age of 40 to save for a first home or to save towards their retirement.

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Savers who open a Lifetime ISA will be able to pay in up to £4,000 per tax year, receiving a 25% bonus from the government for every pound they put in. Individuals who save the maximum will receive a £1,000 bonus each year.

Under the FCA’s proposed rules, providers will be required to supply specific warnings to consumers at the point of sale, reminding them of the importance of having an appropriate mix of assets within their Lifetime ISA.

Alongside this, firms will need to remind savers of the early withdrawal charge and any other charges.

The financial regulator stated that it intends to ‘regulate the Lifetime ISA in the same way as other ISA products’, but will also create new protections designed to ‘reflect the dual purpose of a Lifetime ISA and the restrictions on accessing funds’.

The FCA will carry out a consultation on its proposals in an effort to implement the new rules before April 2017.

CBI calls for investment as unemployment figures hit record low

UK unemployment fell by 37,000 to 1.6 million in the three months to September, its lowest level for 11 years, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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The latest figures prompted the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to once again call for Chancellor Philip Hammond to prioritise business investment in the forthcoming Autumn Statement.

Josh Hardie, Deputy Director-General of the CBI, said: ‘While the labour market remains in decent health there are some concerning trends, such as the increasing claimant count.

‘With the economy entering a more challenging phase, businesses are already changing processes to increase their productivity, and will be looking for measures to support their efforts in next week’s Autumn Statement, such as investment in innovation and infrastructure.’

The ONS report shows that the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% in the three month period – the lowest since 2005 – while the number of people in work rose by 49,000.

The total number of people in jobs remained at a record high of 31.8 million, and average weekly earnings (including bonuses) grew by 2.3% in the year to October. The number of self-employed people increased by 213,000 to 4.79 million – 15.1% of all people in work.

However, many have noted that the rate of jobs growth has slowed, and have predicted difficulties ahead caused by the uncertainties of Brexit. Suren Thiru, Head of Economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: ‘These subdued labour market and economic conditions are expected to keep a lid on wage growth over the next year, despite higher than expected levels of inflation.’

He also called for the Chancellor to act in the Autumn Statement, requesting measures that would ‘support firms looking to recruit and invest in their workforce, including measures to boost investment and lower upfront business costs’.

Earlier this week, Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation fell to 0.9% from 1% in September, surprising economists, most of whom had predicted an inflation rise.

1% pension exit fee cap confirmed by FCA

Early exit charges for individuals withdrawing money from their pension pot will be capped at 1%, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has confirmed.

For existing occupational pensions, the cap of 1% will apply, while a cap of 0% will apply to new contracts. The Department for Work and Pensions stated that the introduction of such caps will remove ‘unnecessary barriers for those wanting to access their savings’.

Both caps will only affect those aged 55 or over.

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Richard Harrington, Minister for Pensions, said: ‘This new cap will protect people’s savings from excessive charges, so more of their money will go towards the comfortable retirement they have saved for.’

Meanwhile, Christopher Woolard, Executive Director of Strategy and Competition at the FCA, commented: ‘People eligible for the Government’s pension reforms should feel able to access them as they wish.

‘The 1% cap on early exit charges for existing pensions and the 0% cap for new contracts will mean that current and future savers will not be deterred by these charges from accessing their pension pots.’

The new rules, which were proposed by the Treasury earlier this year, are set to come into force in March 2017.

Businesses risk losing key staff due to ‘high cost of childcare’

Businesses risk losing key employees due to the ‘high cost of childcare’, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned.

In a study of more than 1,600 business leaders carried out by the BCC and Middlesex University, over a quarter of firms said staff had reduced their working hours as a result of childcare costs.

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One in 10 said workers had actually quit the workplace because of the issue.

Of those leaders surveyed, some 33% claimed the availability of childcare was ‘a key issue in recruiting and retaining staff.’

Three and four-year-olds are currently entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week, although this is set to be doubled to 30 hours from April 2017.

The move has been welcomed by many firms, with 39% of businesses saying the increased entitlement will have a positive impact on their ability to recruit staff.

However, the BCC is urging the government to take further action and consider introducing a universal childcare entitlement for every child up until they start school.

Commenting on the findings, BCC Director General, Adam Marshall, said: ‘Firms across the UK are losing talented staff, often because of the availability and high cost of childcare.

‘At a time when economic growth is softening, and skills gaps and recruitment difficulties are hindering businesses, the government should consider the childcare system as part of Britain’s core business infrastructure – in the same way that it thinks of energy, transport, or broadband.’

He added: ‘As businesses have evolved to become more flexible, government policy should also evolve – to help as many working parents as possible stay in the workplace’.