National Insurance Contributions Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

National Insurance Contributions Bill

Sarah Olney Excerpts
Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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The Bill seeks to achieve a range of aims, but like most things that the Government are currently attempting, it misses the opportunity to achieve a great deal more.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the provisions that will enable a 0% rate of national insurance contributions to be paid by employers of former members of the armed forces. Glass Door, a charity in my constituency that provides shelters and outreach for homeless people and rough sleepers, has described to me how past trauma is a key risk factor in becoming homeless and how the two groups most at risk are survivors of childhood sexual abuse and armed forces veterans. Like many Members across the House, I am deeply concerned about how we care for our servicemen and women, and I support all measures to assist them in their post-service life. The Liberal Democrats unequivocally welcome an incentive for businesses to bring them into new employment.

We also welcome the straightening out of any unintended tax consequences that have arisen from covid payments in the past 18 months. The British public have been extraordinary in their response to the crisis and have willingly played their part in staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives. For many individuals, that will have had a direct financial consequence, and it is absolutely right that any payments made to mitigate such financial consequences should be free from tax and national insurance. There is no doubt that people would willingly have gone out and earned national insurance contribution income if the Government had not asked them not to. It is only fitting that their financial sacrifices be properly recognised in our tax and benefits system.

I support the comments made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) about tax avoidance schemes and the extent to which they are being promoted. I support measures to clamp down on such schemes, particularly where vulnerable taxpayers are being targeted and potentially lured, dare I say it, into investing in schemes that would bring them into default in their tax affairs; we have seen that happening in relation to the loan charge, as he mentioned. I would like to see the Government doing more to clamp down on these schemes, and I welcome any measures to do so.

The Bill also makes provision for 0% national insurance contributions for employers in freeports. The Government have made a great deal of their plans for freeports; they appear to have great hopes for their abilities to bring economic revival to our country following Brexit and the pandemic. The extent to which that looks likely to be achieved remains uncertain. The Government have not yet published an assessment of the likely impact of this national insurance reduction, which leads me to believe that that uncertainty is continuing. If the Government are unable to say how much the Treasury will lose from the cut in national insurance, one can conclude only that they do not yet have any confidence in how much they expect freeports to boost employment.

What is certain is that the Government have not yet brought forward any other plans to boost economic growth following Brexit and the pandemic. I regret that they are missing the opportunity to boost growth in other sectors and in regions that are not lucky enough to benefit from a freeport.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch)
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The hon. Lady says that the Government do not have any additional plans for growth. We launched a plan for growth in the Budget with three pillars—infrastructure, innovation and skills—to tackle net zero post covid and take our opportunities for global Britain on leaving the EU, so she is quite wrong to say that we have not done anything to plan for growth.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney
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I very much welcome the Exchequer Secretary’s intervention. I am happy to stand corrected, and I very much look forward to seeing the impacts of those plans right across the nation, because as far as I am concerned, the significant weakness of the plan for freeports is that it cherry-picks areas for investment while ignoring the needs of many other communities across the country. That is why I say that the Bill is a missed opportunity: because to target the national insurance cut just at areas that will have a freeport is to ignore the impact that such a cut could have across many sectors that could provide fantastic opportunities for employment as we come out of the pandemic. There is a very real danger that freeports will divert business activity from areas outside freeports, and that this measure will hit the public finances without any subsequent increase in economic activity.

I believe that the Government would make much better use of the national insurance contributions scheme by stimulating economic growth in ways proven to be effective. For example, an increase in the annual employment allowance to £16,000 could benefit every small and medium-sized enterprise. It would allow employers to take on up to five workers each without making contributions, which would be a substantial boost to communities across the country and would do much more to boost employment across the nation than these hand-picked benefits whose impact cannot be measured.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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As the next speaker has withdrawn, we will go straight to Jim Shannon.