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Cost of Living Increase: Impact on Households

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 15 March 2022

6. What fiscal steps he plans to take to help reduce the impact on households of the rise in the cost of living. (906063)

16. What fiscal steps he plans to take to help reduce the impact on households of the rise in the cost of living. (906075)

18. What fiscal steps he plans to take to help reduce the impact on households of the rise in the cost of living. (906077)

The Government, of course, recognise that inflation is rising and are closely monitoring the situation together with the Bank of England. We are also putting in place policies to help families meet the rising cost of living, such as freezing duties, cutting the tax rate in universal credit and increasing the national living wage. Last month I announced to this House a £9 billion package of support to help households with rising energy bills.

The question was about what assessment has been made. The Resolution Foundation predicts that inflation will rise above 8% but benefits will increase by only 3%. Liverpool has some of the most deprived communities in this country, with 33% of children in my Riverside constituency suffering poverty. Does the Chancellor believe that now is not the time to increase national insurance contributions while the cost of living is increasing, forcing people into poverty at the highest level since the 1970s? Will he commit to putting measures in place in the spring statement?

The hon. Lady talks about children in poverty, and I am pleased that there are now 300,000 fewer children in poverty than in 2010 thanks to the actions of Conservative-led Governments. We all know that the best way to ensure the children do not grow up in poverty is to ensure that they grow up in a house where people work, and that is why I was delighted this morning to learn that there are record numbers of people on payroll.

Citizens Advice has told me that one in six people in my constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney are unable to pay their energy bills right now, and that is before they spike next month and before the Chancellor’s national insurance hike. Some 86% of people said that they did not think that the October energy loan scheme would make a difference in helping to pay their bills. The conflict in Ukraine will inevitably lead to a further surge in energy prices, so if he will not accept Labour’s suggestion of a windfall tax on oil and gas producers, what exactly will the Chancellor do now to relieve the pressures on people in my constituency and across the country?

We are putting in place support to help households meet the rising cost of energy bills, and £9 billion of support will help to ensure that four out of five households in England will receive £150 starting this April, with a further £200 of support towards the autumn. Of course, councils have been given extra money for discretionary funding to help households in need as well.

Since the Chancellor announced his household loan scheme in response to the energy crisis as well as a huge rise in national insurance, the world has changed. Other Departments have adapted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When will the Treasury?

With regard to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Treasury has been hard at work with our international partners to put in place the most comprehensive set of economic sanctions that this country has ever had and that Russia has ever experienced. I am very proud of the job we have done.

If the Chancellor had appreciated last autumn the extent to which energy costs and other household bills would rise, would he still have advocated a national insurance rise?

We have reacted to rising energy bills by putting in place £9 billion of support, which will get to households far faster than the proposals put forward by the Opposition, with the £150 reaching four out of five households just this April when the price cap goes up. It is also worth bearing it in mind that, because of the price cap, households will be protected from further increases all the way through to the autumn.

The cost of fuel is now an eye-watering £2 a litre in some areas, which has led to a huge VAT windfall for the Treasury. When the Chancellor thinks about his spring statement, will he look not just at cutting fuel duty but at mileage recovery rates? They have been at 45p a mile for more than a decade. Now is the time to put them up to 60p at least.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his suggestions, and of course I will bear them in mind. He is right about the rising cost of fuel at the pumps, although I am pleased to see that over the last few days, the price of Brent has fallen by about 25%, illustrating the volatility of the situation.

The cost of living is biting hard in Brecon and Radnorshire. Heating oil is eye-wateringly expensive and extremely hard to come by, while a local haulage firm in Llandrindod Wells is coughing up an extra £60,000 per month on diesel. It is wrong to assume that those who live in rural areas are wealthy enough to withstand these pressures, so can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that he has them in mind as he considers all the options available to him?

I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. Representing as I do a rural constituency like hers, I know the difficulty that our constituents are facing. That is why our £9 billion package of support for energy that I announced earlier is done by electricity meter, ensuring that those who are off the gas grid also benefit.

The impact on energy prices of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions will inevitably mean that Britain is poorer. There is nothing that we can do about that overall, but we can help to smooth the impact. I welcome the announcement this morning that there are 275,000 extra people on payroll. What more can the Chancellor do to improve companies’ ability to hire workers and to enable people to keep more of their own money; for example, through the reduction in the taper rate on universal credit?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his typically thoughtful question. He is absolutely right about the circumstances we face. The data this morning shows record numbers of people on payroll, and that is to be welcomed. Indeed, the unemployment rate is now back to the levels we saw before the pandemic, thanks to our plan for jobs. There are record vacancies, and we want to get people into work. The best way to do that is to give them the skills they need and cut taxes to increase incentives. That is exactly what this Government are doing, and I expect us to make more progress in the months ahead.

With council tax being one of the biggest items in household budgets, could the Chancellor remind the House which party tends to be the best, in a local council, for setting council tax?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent and timely point. She knows that I know that, in this country, if people want good local services delivered for the lowest possible council tax, they need to vote Conservative.

The package on energy announced by the Chancellor last month has already been rendered obsolete by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some estimates of average annual household energy bills suggest that there will be rises to £3,000 or even more from October. That is a ruinous figure for many of our constituents. Will the Chancellor revisit this support package in next week’s spring statement, and will he reconsider his refusal to fund help for hard-pressed households through a windfall tax on the enormous profits that oil and gas companies are making?

It is worth bearing it in mind that, because of the price cap, households will be protected all the way through the autumn. We do not know what the price cap will be at that point. If the right hon. Gentleman knows, he is probably in the wrong line of business, and it would be good if he could tell the rest of us. Regarding a windfall tax, Conservative Members believe in getting more investment into the North sea and exploiting our domestic resources. The roundtable that my right hon. Friends the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary hosted yesterday showed that there is enormous appetite to invest more in the UK. A windfall tax would put off that investment.

Of course, there are global factors driving up energy prices and inflation in many countries, but what singles out the UK is this Government’s decision to impose a tax rise on working people right when the impact of rising energy bills is hitting people the hardest. Why are the Government so determined to make the cost of living crisis worse now with these tax rises, particularly when the Treasury is briefing anyone—including the Government’s own Back Benchers—who will listen that the Tory party is planning pre-election tax cuts?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about exceptionalism with regard to policy. Part of the reason we are in this situation with energy prices is the decisions made by the previous Labour Government, in particular on nuclear energy, which we are now rapidly having to make up for. We are also committed to tackling the unprecedented backlogs in the NHS, getting the waiting lists down, and recovering from covid. Every single penny of the health and social care levy will go to the people’s No. 1 priority and, although things are difficult, I know that is what people want to happen.

I represent an area in Cornwall where a large number of people are on the state pension. I know, from conversations that I have had with the Chancellor, that he is particularly concerned about that demographic. Given the critical rise in the cost of living, I wonder whether one of the easier routes to address it would be to reinstate the triple lock for next year.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight pensioners and to support them in the way that he does. He will know that we made a decision temporarily to move to a double lock this year because of the anomaly in the reported earnings, which would have meant a very large rise statistically that would not have been justified or fair in the circumstances. That said, I am pleased to say that pensions are now at their highest level relative to earnings in over three decades because of the Government’s policy on the triple lock, and we continue to be the party that will support those who need our help.

Sanctions against Putin’s regime are absolutely necessary, but they will add an extra layer of economic harm on top of the existing Tory cost of living crisis. The Chancellor must use the upcoming spring statement to deliver an emergency package of support to householders and businesses, whose costs have spiralled out of control. Will he turn his buy now, pay later energy loan into a grant, reinstate the universal credit uplift, increase other benefits with inflation and scrap the VAT and national insurance hike that will damage so many people?

What we are doing is tackling the cost of energy. Unlike the hon. Lady’s party, we believe in the future of the North sea and we are investing in it. We want to make sure that we promote the jobs that are there. On upcoming support for energy costs, the Scottish Government have plenty of powers on welfare and tax, and if they think that they can make a difference, they should use them.