JEREMY Hunt has unveiled a cut in National Insurance contributions for millions of workers and a freeze in alcohol duty as he seeks to revive the Tories' flagging popularity in the polls.

He announced a reduction in the main rate of National Insurance from 12% to 10%, as well as saying compulsory Class 2 National Insurance contributions - paid by those who are self-employed - would be completely abolished.

The two percentage point reduction in the main rate will save someone earning £35,000 more than £450 and will "help 27 million", he said. 

Hunt also said he would bring forward urgent legislation to Parliament to introduce the cut in National Insurance for employees “from January 6, so that people can see the benefit in their payslips at the start of the new year”.

READ MORE: Scottish Government announces 'exceptionally difficult' budget cuts

However, he also unveiled plans which would see benefits completely stopped for the long-term unemployed who "choose not to engage with the work search process" for six months as part of a "back to work" plan.

He told MPs: "If after 18 months of intensive support jobseekers have not found a job, we will roll out a programme requiring them to take part in mandatory work placements to increase their skills and improve their employability.

"And if they choose not to engage with the work search process for six months we will close their case and stop their benefits."

The Chancellor said there would be an additional £80 million for Levelling Up projects in Scotland as he delivered his Autumn Statement ahead of a looming General Election.  

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He also said Universal Credit and other benefits will increase by 6.7% next year in line with September’s inflation figure, which would be an “average increase of £470 for 5.5 million households next year”.

And he said the UK Government will honour its commitment to the triple lock “in full” by increasing the state pension by 8.5% to £221.20 a week from April 2024.

Alcohol duty will be frozen until August 1, 2024, meaning no increase in duty on beer, cider, wine or spirits, while tobacco duty will rise.

Other headline pledges unveiled in the Autumn Statement include:​

  • Class 4 National Insurance paid by the self-employed at 9% on all earnings between £12,570 and £50,270 will be cut to 8% from April.

  • Accepting a Low Pay Commission recommendation to increase the national living wage by 9.8% to £11.44 an hour.

  • A tax break for businesses that allows them to save on corporation tax by investing, known as full expensing, is being made permanent - described as the “largest business tax cut in modern British history”.

  • Freeports and investment zones will be given 10 years of “financial incentives” rather than five as previously planned.

The Chancellor’s Commons statement is seeking to revive both the UK’s struggling economy - and the Tories’ election chances.

READ MORE: 'Beyond crass' for Tories to take credit for inflation fall

He said the Autumn Statement contains “110 different measures to help grow the British economy”.

However shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told the Commons working people are “worse off” despite the Government’s promises.

After describing the “damage” caused by the Conservatives, she said: “Nothing that has been announced today will remotely compensate.

“Mortgages rising, taxing eating into wages. Inflation high, with prices still going up in the shops. Public services on their knees. And too many families struggling to make ends meet.

“As the sun begins to set on this divided, out-of-touch, weak Government, the only conclusion that the British people will reach is this: after 13 years of Conservatives the economy is simply not working, and despite all the promises today, working people are still worse off.”

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said the Autumn Statement delivered the "worst case scenario" for Scotland’s finances and failed to live up to the challenges posed by the cost of living and climate crises.

She said: "Scotland needed a fair deal on investment for infrastructure, public services and pay deals – the UK Government has let Scotland down on every count.

“We needed investment in the services that people rely on and in infrastructure vital to the economy, but the Chancellor’s actions failed to live up to the challenges we are facing as a nation, while not doing enough to help those on the lowest incomes.

"The cut to National Insurance shows the UK Government has the wrong priorities at the wrong time, depriving public services of vital funding.

"Shockingly, the health funding announced today represents an increase of less than 0.06% to Scotland’s health budget in 2024-25."

“The increases to the state pension and Local Housing Allowance are welcome, but the increase to the minimum wage falls well short of the Real Living Wage. Some of the measures for businesses are also positive, but they come in the face of UK growth having been projected downwards as a result of Brexit and the UK Government’s mismanagement of the economy."

She added: “We will now assess the full implications of today’s statement as we develop a Budget that meets the needs of the people of Scotland, in line with our missions of equality, community and opportunity.”