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Matt Hancock has denied claims he lied to the prime minister over the COVID care homes crisis and said “you can’t respond to a pandemic by pointing fingers”.

The health secretary is being questioned by MPs two weeks after Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief aide, claimed he “should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things including lying”.

Asked if he knowingly lied to the prime minister about anything during the pandemic, Mr Hancock said: “No.”

One of the most explosive claims Mr Cummings made when giving his committee evidence was that the health secretary told Mr Johnson in March that people in hospital would be tested before returning back to care homes.

Addressing this allegation, Mr Hancock told MPs: “We set out a policy that people would be tested when tests were available – and then I set about building the testing capacity.”

The health secretary added that the government followed the “clinical advice” at all times.

He added that “it was telling” that Mr Cummings had not yet submitted any evidence to the committee to back his claims.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget

Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.

The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, set out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.

National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue raising measures and spending cuts.

Listen above and then click or tap here to subscribe to Politics At Jack And Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts

Currently spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.

The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.

The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.

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What do people want in the budget?

This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.

However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.

Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.

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Budget 2024 explained

The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes closing generating a few hundred million in revenue.

The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.

In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.

However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.

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The Week… Of the budget

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Budget 2024: Unfunded tax cuts ‘deeply unconservative’, says Jeremy Hunt

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Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as £800m tech package to free up public service workers' time revealed

The chancellor has played down expectations of tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget, telling Sky News his spending plans will be “prudent and responsible”.

Speaking to Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, the cabinet minister it would be “deeply unconservative” to take decisions that were unfunded and increased borrowing.

Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last economic set piece from the Conservatives before the next general election, which is widely expected in the autumn.

Politics live: Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as he says budget ‘will be affordable’

The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used to support people through the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy price spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Hunt said: “It’s going to be a prudent and responsible budget for long-term growth.

“And when it comes to tax cuts, I do believe that if you look around the world, countries with lower tax tend to grow faster like North America, Asia.

More on Budget 2024

“And so I do think in the long run, we want to move back to being a lower taxed, more lightly regulated economy.

“But it would be deeply unconservative to cut taxes in a way that increased borrowing…

“If I think of the great tax cutting budgets of the past – Nigel Lawson’s budget in 1988 – the reason that was so significant is because those cuts were permanent and people need to know that these are tax cuts you can really afford.

“So it will be responsible and everything I do will be affordable.”

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Mr Hunt described the 2p cut to national insurance at the autumn statement as a “turning point”.

Read more:
What to expect from this week’s budget – from tax cuts to vaping

He said: “All conservatives believe that the state has a moral duty to leave as much money in people’s pockets as possible because it belongs to the people who earn that money.

“But we all know that it is not conservative to cut taxes, for example, by increasing borrowing because then you are just passing on the bill to future generations.

“So what you saw in the autumn statement was a turning point, when we cut 2p off the national insurance rate.

“We will hope to make some progress on that journey but we are going to do so in a responsible way.”

Mr Hunt’s comments come after he announced an £800m package of technology reforms designed to free up time for frontline public service workers.

Under the move, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence will be deployed to cut MRI scan times by a third.

The Treasury said the changes have the potential to deliver £1.8bn worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.

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