Autumn statement live: Rishi Sunak faces PMQs before Jeremy Hunt unveils plans for UK economy

Key events

Starmer says Sunak is trying to blame the opposition for his own failures. He quotes the mum he spoke to this morning whose son is waiting for treatment. The suicide rate for 15 to 19-year-olds has doubled since 2010, he says. Politics can turn this around. Scrapping tax loopholes could fund thousands more staff, he says. He says that would give people their lives back, and enable people to go back to work. That’s Labour’s plan. Will Sunak back it?

Sunak says his is the first government to publish a long-term NHS workforce plan. He says Labour’s record was a “disastrous failure of workforce planning”. That was what the Labour-chaired health committee said, he says.

Starmer says that, on Sunak’s watch, 2.5 million people are now too sick to work, “with the majority also suffering from mental health issues”.

Can the PM tell us how many people are now waiting for mental health treatment, Starmer asks.

Sunak says “record funds” have been invested in services. But, he adds, NHS strikes have led to thousands of cancelled appointments.

In response to Sunak’s next claim that waiting lists have come down in England, Starmer says we are “through the looking glass”.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that one in three people have missed work in the last year because of delays in accessing NHS care.

The Observer, meanwhile, reported over the weekend that Sunak’s pledge to slash NHS waiting lists has effectively been downgraded amid an increase in the number of patients in England waiting longer than 18 months for treatment.

Starmer says Sunak is taking no responsibility for the state of the NHS. Sunak would not accept those waits for his family, and nor should anyone else. He refers to a family waiting for treatment. How do they feel when they see the PM boasting that everything is fine?

Sunak says the government is doing all it can to put money into the NHS. People deserve treatment. But it is galling to hear Starmer complain when his party does not condemn NHS strikes. And he won’t back the legislation to guarantee people get treatment.

Starmer says 1.2 million people are waiting for mental health treatment, including 200,000 children. Would Sunak accept that for family or friends?

Sunak says he will expand patient choice. Labour’s policy on this has been a muddle, he says.

Starmer says more than double the entire population of Wales are on a waiting list in England. How many people are waiting for mental health treatment?

Sunak says the union action that Labour fails to condemn has led to several hundred thousand cancelled appointments, making waiting lists worse.

In England 18-month waits have virtually been eliminated, but not in Wales, he says.

Next, Rishi Sunak is pressed on comments yesterday by Laura Trott, chief secretary to the Treasury, who said people with mobility and mental health problems will be asked to work from home or lose benefits as part of “their duty”.

Sunak is asked how many job vacancies are currently available for people who can only work from home.

The PM replies that he doesn’t want to pre-empt anything that might appear in the chancellor’s upcoming autumn statement.

Starmer asks how workers can grow the economy if they have to wait a year for an operation.

Sunak says he hopes the Welsh NHS is listening.

Keir Starmer welcomes the pause announced in the Middle East. He says he wants both sides to make progress to a full cessation of hostilities. He says in the past the international community has treated the two-state solution as a formality. That must change, he says.

He asks if Sunak forget to include the NHS in his latest five pledges.

Rishi Sunak says he has put record funding into the NHS, and announced a workforce plan. On the pledges, he says he has halved inflation and he claims he has reduced debt.

Rishi Sunak begins by offering his condolences to the families of the four teenagers who died in Wales.

He also welcomes the announcement of the “humanitarian pause” between Israel and Gaza.

The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, in his opening statement, echoes both these sentiments.

On the four teenagers, he says he can “hardly imagine” the pain the families are experiencing.

Rishi Sunak is taking PMQs. Jeremy Hunt delivers the autumn statement when PMQs ends, soon after 12.30pm.

Whitty says talking about behavioural fatigue was his biggest communications error during Covid

Here are some more lines from what Prof Sir Chris Whitty has been telling the Covid inquiry this morning.

  • Whitty, chief medical officer for England and chief medical adviser for the UK, said that his biggest communications error was to talk about “behavioural fatigue”. This was the theory that people would not be willing to keep complying with Covid restrictions for a long period of time. Before lockdown was announced, Whitty cited this in public as one reason why restrictions should not be imposed too early. Whitty told the inquiry:

This is one where my communications were really poor, frankly, and I said in my statement, this is probably my most prominent, at least in my view, communications error.

Whitty also said he was “told off” by his behavioural science colleagues for his phrasing and subsequently no longer spoke about the issue publicly.

I don’t think I ever saw anybody on the record, or anybody sensible, aiming for it [herd immunity] as a goal. I think some people tried to explain it as ‘this is what would happen over time’, I think frankly, unhelpfully …

If we were to go back in terms of our communication errors along the way – and there were a lot – this is firmly one of the ones where I think we didn’t help the public by having a debate that I think, quite rightly, upset and confused a lot of people.

He also said the term meant different things to different people.

Some people were meaning the herd immunity threshold – this is the point at which, for practical purposes, further waves are unlikely, which is very high.

The modellers were using it in the sense of a gradual increase – gradually increasing levels of immunity – meaning that the effective force of transmission gradually decreases but not to the point where there are no waves.

And I think there was, muddled up between those two completely different uses of the term.

Chris Whitty on the Great Barrington Declaration: “I thought it was flawed at multiple levels”. It was implicitly based on the idea of lifelong post-infection immunity, he says, which turned out to be incorrect.

Chris Whitty on the Great Barrington Declaration: “I thought it was flawed at multiple levels”. It was implicitly based on the idea of lifelong post-infection immunity, he says, which turned out to be incorrect.

— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) November 22, 2023

  • Whitty said he and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, were not consulted about the “eat out to help out” scheme – even though Boris Johnson, in his witness statement to the inquiry, claims that health officials were consulted. Peter reports:

Inquiry hears that Boris Johnson’s witness statement says ‘eat out to help out’ was “properly discussed” with health/science officials. Whitty says he and Vallance were not consulted: “I think we should have been.”

Speculation about the autumn statement mostly focuses on the measures that Jeremy Hunt will announce, but budgets and autumn statements coincide with the Office for Budget Responsibility publishing its latest “economic and fiscal outlook” – a long report with forecasts that serve as a healthcheck on the state of the economy – and by the end of the day it is often the OBR that produces the most startling news lines.

The Financial Times says the OBR might have bad news for Rishi Sunak and Hunt on growth. In a preview it says:

The measures [Hunt] announces are unlikely to forestall some unflattering growth forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the fiscal watchdog. While GDP growth is likely to be upgraded this year, the picture is less optimistic thereafter. In March the OBR said the UK economy would expand by 1.8% in 2024 and 2.5% in 2025. The Bank of England, by contrast, has predicted near-zero growth for both years.

The OBR’s 1.7% estimate of the UK’s sustainable growth rate, which is how fast the economy can grow without driving excess inflation, is also more optimistic than those of other forecasters. One of Hunt’s goals will be to convince the OBR to give him some economic credit for pro-business policies in its forecasts.


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