Everyone will have to pay more tax under plans due to be announced on Thursday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says.
Offering a message few ministers would risk saying out loud, Mr Hunt told the BBC: “I’ve been explicit that taxes are going to go up.”
He confirmed he would be giving details about further help for those struggling with energy bills, but warned there had to be constraints on help.
Labour accused the Conservatives of making a “total mess” of the economy.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Mr Hunt was choosing to tax working people, while doing “little to close tax loopholes which mean some of the wealthiest don’t pay their fair share”.
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Mr Hunt was speaking to the BBC just days before he is due to deliver his tax and spending plans in Parliament as part of the Autumn Statement.
The BBC has been told the chancellor is set to announce spending cuts of about £35bn and plans to raise £20bn in tax.
It comes as the UK faces major economic challenges, with soaring living costs and a warning from the Bank of England that the country is facing its longest recession since records began.
It also follows the mini-budget of former Prime Minister Liz Truss and her then chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, which led to market turmoil and a jump in government borrowing costs. Many of those policies have since been reversed by Mr Hunt.
Independent forecasts are understood to have identified a gap of around £55bn in the public finances – although some economists have questioned the size of the ‘black hole’.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hunt acknowledged his plans would “disappoint people” – but he promised to protect the “most vulnerable”.
“We have a plan to see us through choppy waters… we will make the recession we are in as short and shallow as possible.”
The BBC has been told Mr Hunt is planning to freeze tax thresholds – the levels of income at which people begin to pay more tax – until 2028.
While he did not confirm these plans when appearing on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, the chancellor said: “I think I’ve been completely explicit that taxes are going to go up, and that’s a very difficult thing for me to do because I came into politics to do the exact opposite.”
As ever at this stage in the cycle, the occupants of the Treasury are coy about giving any specifics.
It is also abundantly clear that public services are in for a hard time – with no guarantee there’ll be extra cash to help them to cope with the costs of inflation.
Some Conservatives MPs have warned against increasing taxes, with former party leader Iain Duncan Smith telling Sky News it could lead to a “deeper” recession.
Addressing the concerns of his colleagues, Mr Hunt said the previous leadership had tried that approach, “in other words a plan that doesn’t show how, in the long run, we can afford it”.
“We have tried that, we saw it didn’t work.”
With the Conservatives significantly behind in the polls, Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak face a challenge in getting public backing for their proposals.
The chancellor also made clear that the support people were receiving for energy bills would come to an end for many.
The energy price guarantee had been due to last for two years, but after taking over from Mr Kwarteng, Mr Hunt announced it would expire in April.
Speaking to the BBC, he said he would set out what further support would be given to those struggling on Thursday.
However, he emphasised that future help had to be “done on a sustainable basis” and there would have to be “some constraints”.
Asked if he was ditching the energy plan set out by former prime minister Boris Johnson, the chancellor said he admired Mr Johnson’s “big visions” but added there were elements of “cakeism” – a reference to the phrase: “Have your cake and eat it.”
He said he wanted to “deliver the exciting things he outlined” but that actions had to be credible and affordable.
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During his interview, Mr Hunt also accepted that Brexit had had costs for the economy too.
Wrapped up in suggestions that there were lots of opportunities still to come, it is a rare acknowledgement from a Conservative politician.
He said the coronavirus pandemic had prevented the UK from taking advantage of opportunities open to it after leaving the European Union.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves said she recognised there would be “constraints” on what the government could do, partly because of “mistakes the government has made”.
However she added: “Just because you have to make difficult decisions it doesn’t mean you have to make the same decisions.”
She said Labour had “no plans” to raise income tax or national insurance and would focus on closing “loopholes” in the tax system.
The Liberal Democrat’s Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said: “Hardworking families look set to be clobbered with yet more unfair tax hikes because the Conservative party crashed the economy.”
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