- By Dharshini David & Sam Gruet
- Chief economics correspondent & business reporter, BBC News
Government borrowing in October was higher than expected at £14.9bn, largely pushed up by higher benefit payments, official figures show.
But the figures showed a smaller-than-expected deficit across the first half of the financial year.
This was due to higher tax receipts in previous months, reflecting higher wages and inflation.
It comes as speculation mounts there could be tax cuts in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday.
Spending on cost of living payments and higher interest on public debt – the biggest of any October since monthly records began – meant the public finances saw a bigger shortfall than at the same point last year.
Borrowing was up £4.4bn from a year earlier and the second highest figure for October, behind only 2020’s figure when spending was affected by the pandemic.
The borrowing figure – the difference between spending and tax income – was also higher than the £13.7bn forecast by the UK’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
It was the first time borrowing has surpassed the OBR’s predictions this financial year.
But better-than-expected tax receipts earlier in the financial year have resulted in an overall smaller deficit than the OBR forecast at the time of the spring Budget.
The ONS said the government had borrowed £98.3bn in total since the start of the financial year.
The figure was £21.9bn more than a year earlier, but less than the £115.2bn that was forecast by the OBR in March.
Responding to the latest statistics, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he would continue to support the Bank of England to drive inflation down to 2%.
“That means being responsible with the nation’s finances,” he added.
The figures on the health of the public finances are mixed news for the chancellor as he puts the finishing touches to Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, and a reminder that he may opt not to give households large tax cuts yet.
Some economists think the chancellor will now meet his self-imposed rules on borrowing with around £20bn to spare.
This has raised speculation of tax cuts in the Autumn Statement, with one analyst commenting that with the election drawing nearer, the chancellor may not be able to resist the temptation to unveil a pre-election splash.
But others expect the focus will be on helping business, with households perhaps having to wait until next spring for announcements on substantial giveaways.
Robert Johnson is a UK-based business writer specializing in finance and entrepreneurship. With an eye for market trends and a keen interest in the corporate world, he offers readers valuable insights into business developments.