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Household Expenditure

Volume 550: debated on Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Government have taken wide-ranging action to support households. For example, we cut fuel duty last year and have deferred various increases planned by the Labour party. We are also helping those in work by raising the personal allowance by £1,100 in April next year, which is the largest cut in income tax for median earners in more than a decade. That is a substantial record of dealing with the big questions in the cost of living for families.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. There are concerns that fuel companies delay the reduction in petrol prices when the cost of crude oil falls. What action are the Government taking to ensure that companies pass on savings to motorists?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I sympathise greatly with families up and down the country who face the problem that he describes. That is why we have made decisions on fuel duty that mean that the price of petrol is roughly 10p a litre less than it would have been had we followed through the Labour party’s plans. The Office of Fair Trading has recently announced a call for information on the problem, and I urge him and Members in all parts of the House to pass on any information that they have. Having spoken to Clive Maxwell of the OFT, I know that it is committed to ensuring—

Order. I am greatly obliged to the Chief Secretary, but from now on we need rather shorter exchanges if I am to maximise the number of Back-Bench contributors.

The Chief Secretary will know that one thing that is really hitting people at the moment is the rising cost of food. A huge number of people, even those in work, are having to resort to going to food banks. What action are the Government taking to address that situation?

The hon. Lady will also know that the substantial increases in the personal allowance are putting more money in the pockets of people on low incomes who are working hard. We protected the lowest-paid public sector workers from the impact of the pay freeze, and she will also know that out-of-work benefits went up by 5.2% this year.

Returning to the high cost of petrol, diesel and heating oil, I am sure the Chief Secretary is aware that in the past few days FairFuelUK has published a statement from a whistleblower alleging that the oil commodity trading market is being rigged in a similar way to LIBOR. Will he confirm that he will back the call for a wider investigation and inquiry into the UK oil trading market by the Financial Services Authority or the Bank of England, whichever is more appropriate?

I applaud the work of the FairFuelUK campaign in drawing attention to such issues. Having discussed the matter with Clive Maxwell of the Office of Fair Trading, I can reassure my hon. Friend that if the call for information in which it is currently engaged yields evidence of real problems in the fuel market, it will launch a full investigation.

In four months’ time, more than a million families will see their cost of living rise, with the loss of child benefit and a complex tax change costing the Exchequer £100 million more just to administer. Can the Chief Secretary tell the House how many more families will have to fill out a self-assessment tax form for the privilege of losing their child benefit, and when will those complex forms begin to arrive?

Letters to people who are likely to be affected by that change will go out in October—[Hon. Members: “Which year?”] October of this year. I am surprised to hear that the hon. Gentleman objects to the change, given that it is a necessary part of our fiscal consolidation, and particularly part of our asking the wealthiest in this country to make a contribution to deficit reduction. His party should support that.