The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 26 May.
“The high inflation that we are experiencing now is causing acute distress to the people of this country. I know that they are worried. I know that people are struggling. I want to explain what is happening, why it is happening, and what we propose to do about it.
I trust the British people, and I know they understand that no Government can solve every problem, particularly the complex and global challenge of inflation, but this Government will never stop trying to help people, to fix problems where we can and to do what is right, as we did throughout the pandemic. We need to make sure that those for whom the struggle is too hard, and for whom the risks are too great, are supported. This Government will not sit idly by while there is a risk that some in our country might be set so far back that they might never recover. That is simply unacceptable, and we will never allow it to happen.
I want to reassure everybody that we will get through this. We have the tools and the determination we need to combat and reduce inflation. We will make sure that the most vulnerable and least well-off get the support they need at this time of difficulty, and we will also turn this moment of difficulty into a springboard for economic renewal and growth, with more jobs, higher skills and greater investment: our plan for a stronger economy.
Before I turn to the details of our plan, let me put into context for the House the challenge we face. This country is now experiencing the highest rate of inflation we have seen for 40 years. The Bank of England expects inflation to average around 9% this year. Our exposure to global shocks continues to explain most of the inflation above the 2% target. Supply chain disruption as the world reopened from Covid, combined with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and potentially exacerbated by recent lockdowns in China, are all contributing to significant price increases for goods and energy.
However, over the course of the year, the situation has evolved and become more serious. There are areas of particular concern. Even excluding energy and food, core inflation has become broader-based and elevated. Of the basket of goods and services we use to measure inflation, a record proportion is seeing above-average price increases. Also, we are acutely exposed to the European energy price shock and, like the US, we have a tight labour market. Make no mistake, the lowest unemployment in almost 50 years, just months after averting a jobs crisis during the pandemic, is good news, but combined with the shock to European energy prices, it does contribute to the UK’s relatively high rate of inflation.
Lastly, as the Bank has noted, longer-term inflation expectations have risen above their historical averages by more than they are doing in the US and Europe. We cannot and must not allow short-term inflationary pressures to lead people to expect that high inflation will continue over the long term. We can get inflation under control. It is not some abstract force outside our grasp. It may take time, but we have the tools we need and the resolve it will take to reduce inflation. We have three specific tools available to combat and reduce inflation, and we are using them all: independent monetary policy, fiscal responsibility and supply-side activism.
First, our primary tool is a strong independent monetary policy. Since control of monetary policy was taken out of the hands of politicians 25 years ago, inflation has averaged precisely 2%. It is right that the Bank of England is independent, and I know that the governor and his team will take decisive action to get inflation back on target and ensure that inflation expectations remain firmly anchored.
Secondly, we need responsible fiscal policy. That means providing fiscal support where required but not making the situation unnecessarily worse, causing inflation, interest rates and mortgage rates to go up further than they otherwise would. Excessively adding fiscal stimulus into a supply-constrained economy, especially one in which households and businesses have built up over £300 billion of excess savings, risks being counter- productive and increasing inflationary pressures. In other words, fiscal support should be timely, temporary and targeted. Timely because we need to help people when the shock is at its worst, targeted because unconstrained stimulus will make the problem worse, and temporary because if we do not meet our fiscal rules and ensure the public finances are resilient in the longer run, we create even greater risks on inflation, interest rates and the trend rate of economic growth.
Thirdly, we are taking an activist approach to supply-side reforms. This will increase our productive capacity, ease inflationary pressures and raise our long-term growth potential. The Prime Minister’s energy security strategy will reduce bills over time by increasing energy supply and improving energy efficiency. The Work and Pensions Secretary is moving half a million jobseekers off welfare and into work and doing more to support older people back into the jobs market. The Home Secretary is making our visa regime for high-skilled migrants one of the most competitive in the world, and in the autumn we will bring forward tax cuts and reforms to encourage businesses to invest more, train more and innovate more—the path to higher growth. Independent monetary policy, fiscal response ability and supply-side reform—the country should have confidence that using these three tools, we will combat inflation and reduce it over time.
But of course, we know that households are being hit hard right now, so today we will provide significant support to the British people. As I have said, a critical part of how we are dealing with inflation is responsible fiscal policy. What this means in practical terms is that as we support people more, we need to think about the fairest way to fund as much of that cost as possible. The oil and gas sector is making extraordinary profits, not as the result of recent changes to risk taking or innovation or efficiency, but as the result of surging global commodity prices, driven in part by Russia’s war. For that reason, I am sympathetic to the argument to tax those profits fairly, but, as ever, there is a sensible middle ground. We should not be ideological about this; we should be pragmatic. It is possible to both tax extraordinary profits fairly and incentivise investment. So, like previous Governments, including Conservative ones, we will introduce a temporary targeted energy profits levy, but we have built into the new levy a new investment allowance similar to the super-deduction, which means that companies will have a new and significant incentive to reinvest their profits.
The new levy will be charged on the profits of oil and gas companies at a rate of 25%. It will be temporary, and when oil and gas prices return to historically more normal levels, the levy will be phased out, with a sunset clause written into the legislation. And crucially, with our new investment allowance, we are nearly doubling the overall investment relief for oil and gas companies. That means that for every pound a company invests, it will get back 90% in tax relief. So the more a company invests, the less tax it will pay.
We understand that certain parts of the electricity generation sector are also making extraordinary profits. The reason for this is the way our market works. The price our electricity generators are paid is linked not to the costs they incur in providing that electricity but rather to the price of natural gas, which is extraordinarily high right now. Other countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Greece have already taken measures to correct this. As set out in the energy security strategy, we are consulting with the power generation sector and investors to drive forward energy market reforms and ensure that the price paid for electricity is more reflective of the costs of production.
These reforms will take time to implement, so in the meantime, we are urgently evaluating the scale of these extraordinary profits and the appropriate steps to take. So our energy profits levy will encourage investment, not deter it. It will raise around £5 billion of revenue over the next year so that we can help families with the cost of living, and it avoids having to increase our debt burden further. There is nothing noble in burdening future generations with ever more debt today because the politicians of the day were too weak to make the tough decisions.
I know the whole House will agree that we have a responsibility to help those who, through no fault of their own, are paying the highest price for the inflation we face. To help with the cost of living, we are going to provide significant targeted support to millions of the most vulnerable people in our society: those on the lowest incomes, pensioners and disabled people.
First, on people on the lowest incomes, over 8 million households already have incomes low enough for the state to be supporting their cost of living through the welfare system. They could be temporarily unemployed and looking for work; they could be unable to work because of long-term sickness or disability; or they could be on low pay and using benefits to top up their wages. Right now, they face incredibly difficult choices. I can announce today that we will send directly to around 8 million of the lowest-income households a one-off cost of living payment of £650. That support is worth over £5 billion and will give vulnerable people certainty that we are standing by them at this challenging time. The Department for Work and Pensions will make the payment in two lump sums, the first from July and the second in the autumn, with payments from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for those on tax credits following shortly after. There is no need for people to fill out complicated forms or bureaucracy, as we will send the payments straight to their bank account.
Our policy will benefit over 8 million households in receipt of means-tested benefits from July. Uprating in that timeframe could only be done for those on universal credit, and our policy will provide a larger average payment this year of £650, whereas uprating the same benefits by 9% would be worth only £530 on average.
There are two further groups who will need extra targeted support. Many pensioners are disproportionately impacted by higher energy costs. They cannot always increase their income through work and, because they spend more time at home and are more vulnerable, they often need to keep the heating on for longer. We estimate that many people who are eligible for pension credit are not currently claiming it, which means that many vulnerable pensioners will not be receiving means-tested benefits. I can announce today that, from the autumn, we will send over 8 million pensioner households that receive the winter fuel payment an extra one-off pensioner cost of living payment of £300.
Disabled people also face extra costs in their day-to-day lives; for example, they may have energy-intensive equipment around their home or workplace. To help the 6 million people who receive non-means-tested disability benefits, we will send them, from September, an extra one-off disability cost of living payment worth £150. Many disabled people will also receive the payment of £650 I have already announced, taking their total cost of living payment to £800.
I can reassure the House that next year, subject to the review by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, benefits will be uprated by this September’s consumer prices index, which on the current forecast is likely to be significantly higher than the forecast inflation rate for next year. Similarly, the triple lock will apply to the state pension.
Of course, we recognise the risk that, with any policy, there may be small numbers of people who fall between the cracks. For example, it is not possible right now for the DWP or HMRC to identify people on housing benefit who are not also claiming other benefits. To support them and others, we will extend the household support fund delivered by local authorities by £0.5 billion from October.
This is a significant set of interventions to support the most vulnerable in our country. We will legislate to deliver this support on the same terms in every part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. Taken together, our direct cash payments will help one third of all UK households with cost of living support worth £9 billion.
We are meeting our responsibility to provide the most help to those on the lowest incomes. I believe that is fair, and I am confident that the House will agree, but many other families who do not require state support in normal times are also facing challenging times. Is it fair to leave them unsupported? The answer must surely be no.
Although it is impossible for the Government to solve every problem, we can and will ease the burden as we help the entire country through the worst of this crisis. We will provide more support with the rising cost of energy, and that support will be universal. Earlier this year, we announced £9 billion to help with the cost of energy, including a council tax rebate of £150 for tens of millions of households.
We planned to provide all households with £200 off their energy bills from October, with the cost repaid over the following five years. Since then, the outlook for energy prices has changed. I have heard people’s concerns about the impact of these repayments on future bills, so I have decided that the repayments will be cancelled. For the avoidance of doubt, this support is now unambiguously a grant. Furthermore, we have decided that the £200 of support for household energy bills will be doubled to £400 for everyone. We are on the side of hard-working families with £6 billion of financial support.
To summarise, our strategy is to combat and reduce inflation over time through independent monetary policy, fiscal responsibility and supply-side activism. We are raising emergency funds to help millions of the most vulnerable families who are struggling right now, and all households will benefit from £400 of universal support for energy bills, with not a penny to repay.
In total, the measures I have announced today provide support worth £15 billion. Combined with the plans we have already announced, we are supporting families with the cost of living through £37 billion or 1.5% of GDP. That is more than or similar to the support in countries such as France, Germany, Japan and Italy. I am proud to say that around three quarters of that total support will go to vulnerable households.
As a result of the measures announced today and the action we have already taken this year, the vast majority of households will receive £550, pensioners will receive £850 and almost all of the 8 million most vulnerable households in the country will, in total, receive support of £1,200.
Let me put that in context. The House will have noted the news from Ofgem earlier this week that it expects the energy price cap to rise to £2,800 in October. That implies an average increase in people’s bills this year of just under £1,200, which is the same amount as our policies will provide for the most vulnerable people this year.
I know there are other pressures. I am not trying to claim that we have solved the entire problem for everyone—no Government could—but I hope that when people hear of the significant steps we are taking, and the millions we are helping, they will feel some of the burden eased and some of the pressures lifted. They will know that this Government are standing by them.
Supporting people with the cost of living is only one part of our plan for a stronger economy—a plan that is: creating more jobs; cutting taxes on working people; reducing our borrowing and debt; driving businesses to invest and innovate more; unleashing a skills revolution; seizing the benefits of Brexit; and levelling up growth in all parts of the United Kingdom. The British people can trust this Government because we have a plan for a stronger economy, and I commend it to this House.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to respond to the Statement. These are incredibly difficult times for people across our nation. That much has been clear for several months, so the obvious question is: why is action being taken only now? Many will see this as an attempt to spare the Prime Minister’s blushes after the publication of the Gray report, which we debated last night, rather than a sign that this Government are on their side.
Inflation is running at a 40-year high and is yet to peak. According to recent analysis, the inflation gap between the richest and poorest is growing, meaning that low-income households are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. As the Chancellor acknowledged in his Statement, we expect the energy price cap to rise by a further £800 in October, and this will take energy bills to their highest level since records began. This crisis is hurting everybody, but it will hit those at the bottom of the income distribution the hardest. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that by October the poorest 10% of households will experience an inflation rate of 14%. By contrast, it will be 8% for the richest 10%. That situation is neither fair nor sustainable.
The various initiatives announced in the Statement are welcome—but of course we would say that as we have been calling for an energy windfall tax for nearly five months. Energy bosses themselves have admitted that they do not know what to do with the unexpected surge in their profits. They have been clear that a windfall tax would not be a disincentive to invest in their operations, and they are already ramping up their investment plans and have money to spare. They can comfortably do both. Despite growing cross-party consensus and the sector’s invitation to act, the Government whipped against a Commons vote on a windfall tax just nine days ago. Of course, the announcement of this temporary targeted energy profit levy is better late than never, but each day of dither and delay has caused unnecessary stress for households and their finances.
We welcome the targeted support for millions of the most vulnerable households across the UK; a significant weight will be lifted when these cost of living payments arrive over the coming months. But this too could have been announced long ago, providing quicker help with April’s cost-cap increase. In the light of Ofgem’s recent announcement, we are also glad that the Government have gone further on universal support. Crucially, the Chancellor has finally dropped the ill-conceived loan element of that scheme. It was wrong to adopt that option and the public immediately saw through his spin. The reduction will no longer be recouped through other increases to bills over the next few years—another Labour policy in action.
One decision ducked by Mr Sunak was on cutting VAT on energy bills. This could have been delivered overnight had the VAT cut been adopted when Labour proposed it last October. It is not the case that many would have had a more comfortable winter? We know that there is growing support for that policy on the Conservative Back Benches, in another place at least. It was even previously touted by the Prime Minister—but I suppose we should not be surprised that he did not keep his word. So can the Minister tell us whether the Treasury will at least be keeping the VAT card up its sleeve should the economic conditions driving increased bills not improve? Can she also confirm whether the Treasury will publish details of how this package is being funded beyond the new windfall tax? Finally, can she give an indication of when enabling legislation for the windfall tax will be brought forward?
In conclusion, we welcome the Government’s U-turns, but there is much more work to be done if people are to be protected from similar price shocks in the future. Given the Government’s willingness to listen to Labour’s ideas, I hope we will soon see aspects of our wider energy plan—for example, rapid action on home insulation and the doubling of onshore wind capacity—put into action.
My Lords, I honestly do not think anybody in this House is seriously fooled. The announcements by the Chancellor today, including the U-turns on a windfall tax and increasing benefits, are basically covering fire for Boris Johnson and his disgraceful role in partygate. The timing gives it away. People have been suffering from a cost of living crunch through much of this winter, making an appalling personal decision on eating or heating. They have needed that help.
The Chancellor says today that he did not know until yesterday that the energy cap would go up by £800 in October. He must be the most out-of-touch person in the country. He could have talked to anybody, on any street, and they would have told him not only that the cap would go up but the amount.
I do welcome today’s package. Anything is needed when a crisis is this urgent and desperate, but one of my concerns is that it covers only the increase in energy costs. The Chancellor’s own speech explains that the average increase in people’s energy bills this year will be just under £1,200. He goes on to say that this is
“the same amount as our policies will provide for the most vulnerable people this year.”
There are other serious pressures, notably the increase in food prices, which are falling most on people on the lowest incomes. I wonder whether the Minister will tell us what experience ordinary people will have and how much more per week it will cost them to deal with those higher food bills. That problem is desperately acute.
There is nothing in here for businesses. I took a quick look at the response from the response from the British Chambers of Commerce, which is usually a very modest group that is always likely to welcome—and does welcome—the actions of the Government. It states:
“For business, the toxic mix of inflation, raw material costs and supply chain disruption”,
largely from Brexit,
“is the flip-side of the coin to the problems facing consumers. Unless steps are also taken to ease business costs, they will likely feed into the inflationary pressure on the economy and quickly eat into the financial support announced today.”
We must not forget that individuals are also facing significant increases in taxes. National insurance contributions are going up 1.25% and, because thresholds have been frozen, many people will find that their income tax bill is shockingly higher than they ever anticipated.
I would like to understand more about why the Chancellor has chosen not to go further. He is going to see £7 billion coming in today from the tax on oil and gas. I agree with others that the oil and gas companies can very much afford to do that. I note that they still plan share buybacks and saw nothing in the market to suggest that that has changed. BP is not cancelling its planned £8 billion in share buybacks this year, nor Shell its £6 billion in announced plans. The Chancellor also now has £8.6 billion in extra VAT due to inflation this year, rising to £40 billion by the end of the Parliament. With that kind of windfall coming into the Treasury itself, there is scope to do a great deal more.
I join others in my party who have called for a cut in VAT, because that would stimulate business, particularly small businesses; take pressure off companies that thought they were going into clear waters coming out of Covid but are now wondering if they are going to survive; and help those on the lowest incomes deal with this severe increase in food prices. Essentially, it is largely paid for by the extra revenues that flow into the Treasury thanks to inflation. Can the Minister explain why that has not happened and why, under those circumstances, the Government are absolutely determined to go ahead with their increase in national insurance contributions, which is going to diminish the pay packet of virtually every working person in the country?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for their questions and for their welcome, I think, for the announcement made today. It is an important announcement, of significant scale, and it will mean a lot to people up and down the country who have been worrying about their energy bills in particular, as well as wider inflation, which I will come to.
Both noble Lords asked why now and what has changed. I say to them that three things have changed since the Spring Statement. First, the war in Ukraine has developed; we were at an early stage in the conflict then. Secondly, inflation expectations have unfortunately worsened since that time. Thirdly, we now have a much clearer idea of the likely level of the price cap in October. The noble Baroness said that anyone could predict what that would be, but there have actually been quite significant levels of volatility and I think it is right to have the best available information so that we can scale and target our support in the best possible way. That is exactly what we have done.
We have designed a windfall tax that will have significant allowances in it to encourage investment, while still, rightly, raising money that will go to households to support them with the cost of living. In waiting, we have been able to design that investment incentive in it and we also have a tax that will raise more money than the tax proposed by the opposite side, which they estimated to be about £3 billion—our estimates are about £5 billion. It has also allowed us to match the level of support that we intend to provide for the needs that people will have over the coming months. The lowest-income households, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly referred to in his questions, will receive around double the amount under the Government’s plans than in the plans set out by Labour.
Both noble Lords opposite asked about a VAT cut. A VAT cut on energy would provide, on average, support of around £120 per household. The basic support of a grant to every household of £400 is obviously much more substantial than that, but also, using a VAT cut would mean that more relief would go to those households which are, for the most part, the wealthiest, so I do not think it would be necessarily a well-targeted approach to the problems that we face.
The noble Lord asked when we will legislate for this new levy. The usual channels will, of course, discuss that, and we will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. However, we are clear that the levy starts from today, so there will not be an opportunity to avoid it from that perspective. He also asked about the gap in support for families while we look at what support can be put in place for the October increase in the price cap. Of course, when we knew the April figures and other estimates for the economy, we put more support in place: the national living wage has gone up, and most families have, I think, received their council tax rebate of £150 per household. We had previous cuts in the universal taper rate and an increase in the work allowance, and of course we announced the increase in national insurance thresholds.
I really have to correct the noble Baroness when it comes to national insurance. Yes, we have introduced the health and social care levy that will raise billions of pounds to pay for health and social care spending in years to come, but the increase in the NICs thresholds that will come in in July means that 70% of people will pay less in NICs next year than they would otherwise pay. I do not think it is right for people to get the impression that their pay packets are going to go down in July when they will go up. Also, in increasing thresholds while retaining that levy, we have had to take some difficult decisions that reflect our approach to fiscal responsibility, but we have done it in a targeted and quite redistributive way. I thought that was something that the Liberal Democrats might welcome, and I am disappointed that they still do not feel able to do so.
The noble Baroness talked about pressures beyond the increase in the cost of energy, and she is absolutely right. I have mentioned some of the action we have taken. We have introduced the fuel duty cut to help people with the cost of living. She talked about businesses needing support. We have introduced business rates relief and increased the investment allowance for businesses. We have NICs relief for small businesses employing low numbers of people, which is worth millions of pounds to many small businesses.
I think I have covered most of the points raised by noble Lords. I am glad they have welcomed the action. We have designed it very carefully to recognise that households across the country will be feeling the squeeze in months to come. There is some universal support, but those on the lowest incomes will struggle the most to meet those costs, so we have put in place extra support to help them where we can.
It is important that I close with one thing. The Government cannot meet the cost of living crisis and alleviate all the pain that people will feel over the coming months; I will never pretend that we can. We can put in place targeted interventions to help those least able to meet those rising costs, and that is exactly what we have done with our announcement today.
My Lords, the Chancellor has not really done anything to control inflation. None of the measures will reduce it in any way whatever. Even on the windfall tax, and on tax, it is a sleight of hand. Let me explain how this works.
First, people are taxed to the hilt. The Chancellor then comes along and increases income tax by stealth and national insurance, then gives some of this money back to the people. They then give it to the energy companies, so that they can continue to profiteer and increase their profits, the same as before.
The windfall tax is for only one year; that will not reduce energy costs or the rate of inflation. If the Government were to cap energy prices, as the French Government have, that would definitely reduce the rate of inflation—but that is not what the Government have done. At the same time, they are handing all kinds of tax reliefs to corporations, which means that the tax base of oil and gas companies will also shrink in future—they will pay less tax. It is a very odd kind of strategy.
If a windfall tax on oil and gas companies is good enough—at last the Government have done a U-turn—why is there no windfall tax on supermarkets, banks, railway companies and water companies? They have been profiteering too. That contributes to the rate of inflation, which is damaging to the people, but none of that is being considered by the Government in any way whatever.
I have just spoken to a firm of accountants after the Chancellor’s Statement, and it is rubbing its hands and saying—
I am not sure that I picked up the noble Lord’s questions there, but he did talk about the potential inflationary impact of this announcement and asked what the Government are doing to tackle inflation. I can say to all noble Lords that we have three tools available to us to combat and reduce inflation and we are using them all. First, we have strong, independent monetary policy, overseen by the Bank of England. Secondly, we have responsible fiscal policy from this Government. I am cognisant of the potential inflationary impacts of announcements such as these and that is why we are ensuring that the support we are putting in place is targeted, timely and time-limited. We will continue to take difficult fiscal decisions to ensure that we remain within our fiscal rules. Thirdly, we are taking an activist approach to supply-side reforms, which will increase our productive capacity, ease inflationary pressures and raise our long-term growth potential. I do not think the list of further taxes that the noble Lord said he wanted to apply would encourage more investment in our economy, which is what we need to see the growth that we all want and to support the record lows in, for example, unemployment that this Government have presided over.
My Lords, could my noble friend help me by explaining something? During the Covid lockdown, when there was the furlough scheme and many employers kept people in employment, the Chancellor thought it was appropriate to increase universal credit by £20 a week, which is £1,000 of additional income for some of the poorest people in our country. If that was thought appropriate then, why is it not thought appropriate now, when those people are facing—in the words of the Governor of the Bank of England—“apocalyptic” increases in prices? What is the logic of the Chancellor’s position?
My Lords, the increase in universal credit was always brought forward as a temporary measure as, through the restrictions needed to deal with the Covid pandemic, large parts of our economy were effectively shut down. We face a different set of challenges now. They are severe for many households, but they are to do with inflationary pressures and a large part of that is driven by energy prices, so we are targeting our response towards dealing with that. Under our plans, the lowest-income households will receive around £1,200, which is roughly equivalent to the expected increase in costs for the energy price cap rise. Some people benefited from a UC uprating or temporary uplift, but pensioners who struggle with energy bills did not benefit under that system. People with disabilities, who can face higher energy costs, did not necessarily benefit from that UC uplift. This is a targeted set of measures to deal with a specific set of problems and it should be welcomed.
My Lords, I welcome the support for people with disabilities, but why have the Government taken so long and yet not come to a view or set out the tax on the power generation sector? The peroration from the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, was perhaps overly long, but he made a very important point: one way to deal with the energy price crisis specifically would have been to emulate the French by having a price cap. I accept the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that it is not only an energy crisis; nevertheless, that would have been far more targeted and directed.
My Lords, the structure of the French energy market is different from our own. Different interventions are appropriate in different circumstances, but the generosity of the approach we have taken is comparable. On electricity generation, it is more complicated. As I have said, we have taken time to design the levy so as not to deter investment and we are looking very carefully at the scale of the extraordinary returns in the electricity sector and measures that could be taken in response. We have longer-term plans to reform that sector, but there may be a case for doing something in the interim and we are working urgently to look at that.
My Lords, the Minister has rightly admitted that a large part of the problem that the Government are facing is driven by energy prices. In that case, why are the Government still resisting the development of onshore wind—a rapid and cheap way of generating more power—when, if we doubled our capacity from this form of power, we could cut £6 billion off households’ energy bills?
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister remind the House that actions have consequences? If you have spent a long time demanding green levies and net zero—a fine, legitimate position—do not now complain about fuel poverty. If, as Members in this House have done, you have opposed trade deals with Australia and New Zealand because they are going to flood us with cheap food, do not complain about the price of food. If you spent two years during the lockdown demanding longer and stricter measures, then spare us the high moral tone about inflation. If you pay people to stay at home while printing more money, then you are bound to have a cost of living crisis. Will my noble friend the Minister comment a little on the fiscal effect of a windfall tax? Ronald Reagan used to say that businesses do not pay taxes, they collect taxes. In this case, as all taxes are paid by human beings, is it not the case that the windfall tax will be passed on to consumers, customers, staff and employers, and will take more money out of the economy?
I do not think that is necessarily the case because in the specific circumstances that we are talking about, energy companies have benefited not from greater efficiency in their operations or profitability due to their own efforts, but due to global circumstances. I think that my noble friend and I disagree on green levies and net zero. Actually, our investment in renewable energy has reduced the impact of the current crisis on people’s bills.
I welcome this package, although it is belated, and I welcome its focus on lower-income people, with this exception that it is a universal payment to pensioners, including pensioners who pay 40%— and more—rates of tax, as I am sure is the case with many Members of this House, including me. Do the Government think they are doing enough for poor, working families with children? To give an example, I heard on the radio last week about the impact of inflation on the school meals budget, and how schools are having to reduce the content of food because of the squeeze of inflation on those budgets. Is that not something that the Government should have addressed as a priority, to make sure that children from poor families get at least one decent meal a day?
In ensuring that children get decent meals, we have extended free school meals, and we have the holiday support programme that ensures that this is not just during term-time. On the noble Lord’s question about support to pensioners versus families with children, there is a greater deal of support going to those on low incomes, and we have made this a target. There is also a universal payment and a payment for pensioners who are less able to meet rising energy costs. Pension credit take-up in not where I think anyone in this House would want it to be, and simply targeting pension support through pension credit is not necessarily going to reach everyone we need to. We have to have a balance between universal support that ensures that no one slips through the net, and better targeted support that ensures that those who need it most, get the most support. I think we have done that quite carefully in this package and got it right this time.
My Lords, I cannot find anything in the Statement in relation to prepayment meters. There is a lot about those on low incomes and rising energy prices, but for many people on low incomes there is a problem with prepayment meters because it puts the cost they have to pay up. This matter has been raised in your Lordships’ House several times in recent weeks. Can the Minister tell us whether any progress is being made to reduce the pressure for those who have prepayment meters?
I completely understand the point the noble Lord is making and have to apologise; I tried to get an answer in anticipation to this being raised. I do not have one, but I am very happy to write. I reassure him that those on prepayment meters will get the £400 rebate delivered by a different mechanism. We are ensuring that they receive it.
My Lords, I join almost the whole House in welcoming the belated arrival of the energy profits levy, albeit at an inadequate level. I note that the Statement spends almost as much time on the new investment allowance, through which, for every £1 an oil or gas company invests, it gets 90% back in tax relief. From the Treasury factsheet accompanying this, it appears that this tax offset applies only to investment in the oil and gas sector. The Statement makes no reference to renewables. I believe a report is out in the Independent now expressing astonishment that it appears that oil and gas companies, if they chose to invest in renewables, would not get the tax relief on them. Can the Minister confirm that there will be the same tax relief on renewables as the Government are offering on oil and gas?
My Lords, this is a levy on oil and gas producers, but the Government have also been clear that in the medium term, in terms of our energy security, new investment in those sectors will be needed. The investment relief has been designed to ensure that this is not deterred.
I have a couple of concerns about wider financial sustainability and, if I go too wide, perhaps my noble friend could write to me. The first is on monetary policy, picking up on what the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, said. How are we going to get inflation down? The Chancellor seems to be leaving this to the Bank of England, but it has been very slow to increase interest rates or stop QE—it has now done that—and it does not have any proper monetarist economists on the MPC, so I am not quite clear how inflation is going to go down. The second thing, which is also perhaps a little broad, is that 1 million non-British people have arrived in the UK in the last year. I would be interested to know how much of the much-needed aid that has been announced today will in practice go to them.
My Lords, on my noble friend’s first point, she tempts me to comment on the operation of monetary policy by the independent Bank of England. The only comment I will give is this: since control of monetary policy was taken out of the hands of politicians 25 years ago, inflation has averaged precisely 2%. On my noble friend’s second point, I do not have those figures. I am not sure that they would necessarily be available, but I am happy to find out. If they are, I can write to her and supply them.
My Lords, I would like to follow up on the latter point about the tight labour market. Estimates are that we have between 400,000 and 1 million illegal workers in this country. None of them is paying tax, national insurance or into the Exchequer. Could the Government spend a little time looking at that? One solution would be to have an amnesty in the next six months for everyone who is an illegal worker to register. It would make their lives safer. They are here and would come into the system, and it would increase the flow of revenue and national insurance. I hope the noble Baroness will be prepared to take that away. Secondly, we look again at flows of income on page 5, with the “excess savings” we have in the country and what people are doing with them. I suggest we have a look again at what we did at the end of the Second World War, when we introduced post-war credits and raised substantial money as a country for investment. That was of great benefit to the country, and I am sure that people would be prepared to participate in an event of that kind if the Government were prepared to stimulate one.
On the noble Lord’s second point, the Government always welcome new or revisited ideas and I will certainly pass that back to the Treasury. On people who may be working in the black economy or working without paying tax and national insurance, the noble Lord is right that this is an issue. The Government have taken significant steps over recent years to ensure proper minimum wage enforcement. We also have a Director of Labour Market Enforcement because, as well as ensuring that people pay proper taxes, we need to ensure that they are not vulnerable to exploitation and that the proper rights they should have at work are also offered to them.
My Lords, can my noble friend look at the potential of a windfall tax on the excessive profits that electricity companies have been making? One electricity company alone posted a profit of £1.5 billion—a 14% increase. Would it also not have been better to have targeted the money through the warm homes discount to make sure that it reaches those most vulnerable, who are living in the coldest homes?
My Lords, as I have said already, we are looking at certain parts of the energy generation sector that are also making extraordinary profits, because the price that electricity generators are paid is linked to the price of natural gas. So, like many other countries, we are looking at what measures we might want to take to correct that and engaging with industry urgently on it. On how the support we are providing is delivered and targeted, the Chancellor, as my noble friend would expect, looked at many different options for how best to support people. This package strikes the right balance in terms of targeted and universal support, simplicity of delivery mechanism and the speed at which support can get to people, and it should be very welcome.
My Lords, we are told that the windfall tax will raise around £5 billion and that the cost of the £650 for households will total around £5 billion—it is probably £5.2 billion. Can the Minister tell us the cost of the other measures announced today and how those are to be funded? Given that the Chancellor has also said that he will honour the pledge to restore the triple lock on pensions, and that they will go up by CPI at the rate that is likely to be in September, how is that going to be funded?
In terms of the funding, the noble Baroness is absolutely right: the total cost of the package is around £15 billion. It will be part funded by the levy and the rest will be funded by borrowing. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor said, it is part of an overall fiscally responsible approach. We have ensured that our approach is both targeted and time-limited, so that is the case. I am afraid that I have forgotten the noble Baroness’s other—
My Lords, I have remembered the noble Baroness’s second point about increasing benefits next spring in line with September’s CPI inflation. I can confirm that that is the Government’s intention and I think that would be costed by the OBR in the fiscal forecasts already in place. The other spending will be paid for by borrowing, but it is a one- off cost.
My Lords, time is now up for this business.