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Cost of Living Crisis: Devolved Budget, Households and Businesses

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2022

2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901665)

5. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901668)

11. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901674)

15. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901678)

We have taken action to support households and businesses across Great Britain, including Wales, through schemes such as the energy bill relief scheme and the £400 energy bill rebate. The Welsh Government have been very well funded to deliver their devolved responsibilities, with the largest ever block grant of £18 billion in the 2021 spending review.

The Secretary of State’s U-turn during the Tory leadership election was indeed truly eye-catching, but the U-turn about which people in Wales are most concerned at the moment is the Government’s U-turn on properly protecting benefits and pensions against skyrocketing inflation. Will the Minister be U-turning on that commitment as well, or will he fight the good fight in favour of proper uprating?

This Government will always be committed to supporting the least well off, which is why we have come forward with schemes such as the £650 payment for those on benefits, the £300 for pensioner households and the £150 for those who are disabled. If the hon. Gentleman is really worried about the cost of living, perhaps it is time he persuaded his Government to start supporting new nuclear and the new oil and gas fields that we so desperately need for the energy that people want.

I have just come from chairing the all-party parliamentary group on poverty, which has heard that the cost of living crisis will exacerbate the digital divides experienced by so many people in poorer communities. Will the Minister agree to meet the APPG to discuss how that affects people in Carmarthenshire, in Carmyle, and throughout these islands?

I meet stakeholders who are dealing with poverty all the time, but if the hon. Gentleman is interested in dealing with poverty, perhaps he will be able to find out from his own Scottish National party Government why poverty levels in Scotland are rising, and why even the Labour party in Wales is making a better job of dealing with child poverty than his Government.

The Secretary of State loves to tell a good story, does he not? The UK Government have already slashed devolved budgets by billions this financial year, and on Monday the Chancellor announced that plans for the millions of pounds that were meant to go to devolved nations for cost of living support were now to be abandoned. How does the Secretary of State think that slashing devolved budgets supports the supposed levelling-up agenda?

The hon. Lady gave me a bit of a promotion there; I am the Minister, not the Secretary of State. I am not telling stories. The figures about child poverty in Scotland come from Audit Scotland, which is responsible to the Scottish Government. I suggest that she takes a look at the other figures, which show that far from cutting Wales’s devolved budget the UK Government have increased it every single year, and did so by £2 billion in the last financial year.

Hundreds of thousands will find themselves in fuel poverty should average energy costs rise next April to the estimated £4,347 a year, as a result of the Government rowing back on their own proposals. How can the Minister claim that his party is fighting the cost of living crisis, when his Government are cutting back on the few measures that they have announced before they are even implemented?

I am afraid that I did not hear all of the question, but I believe the hon. Gentleman mentioned fuel poverty. I remind him again that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that people in this country can access the cheap gas, cheap electricity and cheap petrol that they need. It is members of his Government in Scotland who are doing their best to prevent that from happening.

In welcoming the contributions from our friends from the Scottish National party to Wales questions, may I politely remind them that in March 2020 the Government stepped in to save thousands of businesses in every single one of our constituencies, protecting hundreds of thousands of jobs? Does that not demonstrate the value of staying part of a strong United Kingdom, and that the Government do not walk away from serious challenges but meet them head on?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I could not put it better myself. The Government will stand up for the Union, and for the least well-off in society.

Nearly 60% of my constituents on Ynys Môn rely on off-grid energy for heating. The average cost of filling an oil tank has almost doubled in the last year. On behalf of my constituents, will the Minister look at more targeted support for those on off-grid heating and liquefied petroleum gas?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Government have already come through with a £100 payment for those who are off-grid, but I believe that there are genuine issues there, and she makes a very good point. I am sure that our colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury will look carefully at what she has said.

The Minister referred to the significant increases in the Welsh block grant over the past 10 years, which equate to £120 for every £100 spent in England. In spite of that very fair settlement, accepted and recognised by the Welsh Government, health waiting lists are longer, education standards are falling compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, and the economy is growing at a much slower pace. Does he agree that the Welsh Government need to focus on the right priorities: investing in public services and getting value for money?

My right hon. Friend was responsible for ensuring that the Welsh Government got a more generous package than they had previously—£1.20 for every £1 spent in England. It is therefore very hard to understand why, under a Welsh Labour Government, health service waiting lists and ambulance response times have got longer. People have lower standards of healthcare in Wales than they do under a Conservative-run NHS in England, and Welsh Labour needs to take responsibility for that.