UK unveils $18bn household aid, 25 percent energy profit tax

The British government announces an aid package for households struggling to pay soaring energy bills.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves Downing Street
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak's announcement comes at a time when Prime Minister Boris Johnson is keen to move the conversation away from a 'Partygate' report [John Sibley/Reuters]

Britain has announced a 25 percent windfall tax on oil and gas producers’ profits, alongside a 15-billion-pound ($18.9bn) package of support for households struggling to pay soaring energy bills.

The move, which will give each United Kingdom household a 400-pound ($500) discount on energy bills and provide more for the lowest-income households, marks a change of heart for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, which had previously resisted windfall taxes, calling them a deterrent to investment.

It is the second emergency policy intervention to help with rising bills this year.

Facing intense political pressure to provide more support for bill payers coping with what political opponents and campaigners have called a cost-of-living crisis, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said energy firms were making extraordinary profits while Britons struggled.

“We will introduce a temporary and targeted energy profits levy, but we have built into the new levy a new investment allowance that means companies will have a new and significant incentive to reinvest their profits,” Sunak told Parliament.

“The more a company invests, the less tax they will pay.”

Sunak did not refer to it as a windfall tax. He said it would raise 5 billion pounds ($6.30bn) in the next 12 months and be phased out as oil and gas prices return to normal. He did not set out how the rest of the package would be funded.

He also said there would be a new Investment Allowance that would nearly double the tax relief available for firms on their investments.

On Tuesday, the UK energy regulator said that a cap on gas and electricity bills was set to rise by another 40 percent in October, caused by a surge in global energy prices.

Other European governments have also ploughed tens of billions of euros into measures to help mitigate energy prices.

‘Partygate’ scandal

Sunak’s announcement also comes at a time when Johnson is keen to move the conversation away from a damning report detailing a series of illegal lockdown parties at his Downing Street office.

Labour, which had been campaigning hard for a windfall tax, said the U-turn showed the Conservative government was motivated by politics rather than a desire to help people.

“Labour called for a windfall tax because it is the right thing to do, the Conservatives are doing it because they needed a new headline,” said the Labour Party’s economic policy chief, Rachel Reeves.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves speaks during Britain's Labour Party annual conference
Reeves speaks during Britain’s Labour Party annual conference [File: Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Inflation reached a 40-year peak of 9 percent in April and is projected to rise further, while government forecasts last month showed living standards were set to see their biggest fall since records began in the late 1950s.

“The high inflation we are experiencing now is causing acute distress for people in this country. I know they are worried, I know people are struggling,” Sunak said, backing the Bank of England to use interest rates to bring the situation under control.

British government bond futures touched a day’s low as Sunak spoke, and underperformed modestly against German and United States government debt.

“The extra fiscal support for households revealed by the chancellor today falls short of fully offsetting the reduction to households’ real incomes from higher utility prices, but it will cushion the blow and support economic activity,” said Paul Dales, chief UK economist at consultancy Capital Economics.

“Overall, this support is much, much needed for millions of households. But it won’t relieve all the pain and may mean the Bank of England has to pull the interest rate lever harder to get on top of inflation,” he added.

Source: News Agencies