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UK unveils 'sugar tax', slashes growth outlook

The U.K's fiscal watchdog has slashed growth and productivity forecasts for the country as the country's finance minister unveiled a budget for 2016, where he announced plans for a shock "sugar tax" on soft drinks makers.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) downgraded its forecast for U.K. growth to 2 percent in 2016, from a projection of 2.4 percent in November, warning the outlook for the world economy now appears to be "materially weaker" than it was in its last outlook in November last year.

"Financial markets are turbulent. Productivity growth across the West is too low. And the outlook for the global economy is weak. It makes for a dangerous cocktail of risk," Chancellor George Osborne warned as he set out the borrowing and spending plans to the U.K. parliament on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product growth will edge higher to 2.2 percent in 2017 and then 2.1 percent in the three years after that according to the weaker-than-expected OBR data.

"The OBR have revised down growth in the world economy and in world trade. In their words, the outlook is "materially weaker," Osborne said in his budget address.

The revision is sharply lower than consensus forecasts for the longer term, which had predicted annualized growth of 2.3 percent from 2017 out to 2020.

Sugar levy & corporation tax cuts

British Chancellor and Conservative MP George Osborne tours the production line during a visit to Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd on April 1, 2015 in Leeds, United Kingdom.
Getty Images
British Chancellor and Conservative MP George Osborne tours the production line during a visit to Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd on April 1, 2015 in Leeds, United Kingdom.

The U.K. will also bring in a sugar levy on the soft drinks industry in two years' time, as Osborne warned that five-year old children in the U.K. "are consuming their own body weight in sugar every year".

Osborne said the sugar tax, which will be imposed based on the sugar content in soft drinks. would help raise £520 million. The announcement hurt the share price of drinks maker Britvic and sugar maker Tate & Lyle, which both fell over 2 percent shortly after the news.

Meanwhile, oil and gas companies were some of the beneficiaries of the Chancellor's budget after he announced changes to taxation to firms in the sector which has been under pressure following the drastic slump in the oil price. Osborne said he would effectively abolish petrol revenue tax and cut the "supplementary charge" on producers.

Osborne also unveiled plans to cut tax for corporations and raise the tax threshold that small and medium sized businesses pay as the U.K. economy struggles with a weakened growth outlook.

Corporation tax will be cut to 17 percent by April 2020, down from current plans to reduce it to 18 percent.

From April 2017, "600,000 small businesses will pay no business rates at all" he said.

Personal tax and savings

In a bid to help under 40s to start saving, Osborne announced a new "Lifetime ISA" (individual savings account), where the government will add £1 to very £4 saved if you save £4,000 in a year. The new scheme will launch from April next year and individuals can save up to £20,000 per year.

Individual tax-free allowance is also being raised to £11,500, meaning around 31 million people will be paying less tax and 1.3 million of the lowest paid workers will pay no tax at all according to Osborne.

The higher-rate tax threshold, where the rate rises from 20 percent to 40 percent, will increase from £42,385 to £45,000.

Overall U.K. borrowing will increase sharply for the next three years, but Osborne still expects to be in a budget surplus by 2019-2020.

Britain will now borrow £55.5 billion ($78 billion) in 2016 and 2017, up from the predicted £49.9 billion in November last year, followed by £38.8 billion in 2017-8, a large jump from the £24.8 billion forecast last year.