We know the pain that households up and down the country are going through as a result of the cost of living pressures at the moment, and have announced one of the largest support packages in Europe, worth around £3,300 per household this year and last.
The latest report from Which? highlights that even supermarkets’ own budget brands of food have increased in price by 26.6%. There are security locks on baby formula milk, at the same time as corporations are making vast profits. The Government have signed up to the United Nations’ sustainable development goal of eradicating poverty by 2030. Surely, in the light of those commitments, now is the time for the Chancellor to act. Will he cap essential food prices and tackle the grotesque profiteering in the food industry that is driving many of my constituents in Liverpool, West Derby into poverty?
I totally respect the hon. Gentleman for raising the concerns of his constituents in the way that he has done. I do not believe that capping prices is the right long-term solution, but we are doing a lot, including payments of £900 per household for people on means-tested benefits, £150 for households with someone disabled living in them and £300 for households with pensioners living in them, precisely because we want to help the people that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I will be meeting the regulators next week to talk further about what needs to be done with respect to supermarkets.
Over the weekend, the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, spoke about how before the Brexit referendum, the Bank of England had set out that the likely consequences of Brexit were
“a weaker pound, higher inflation and weaker growth”.
Does the Chancellor think it is fair that the UK Government’s decision to ignore the stark warnings from the Bank of England are now being paid for by the households who can least afford it?
I am afraid that I do not buy this Brexit narrative from the SNP. Food price inflation has been around 20% in Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Poland in recent times, so this is not a UK-specific issue. We are all dealing with the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the aftermath of the pandemic, and we are all tackling it with one central focus, which is to bring down inflation as our overriding priority.
The former US Treasury chief said earlier this month that Brexit was a “historic economic error”, and described the UK Government’s economic policy as having been
“substantially flawed for some years”.
Will the Chancellor finally face up to what the rest of the world can see, and admit that leaving the world’s largest single market has not only had a significant impact on inflation, but a deleterious impact on household finances across the country?
I thank my right hon. Friend for all he has done for people in Rossendale and Darwen to help them through this cost of living crisis, but people are very concerned about what is being described as the mortgage bomb about to go off. Is now the time for him to look at reintroducing the bold Conservative idea of mortgage interest relief at source? If we do not help families now, all the other money that we spent to help them will have been wasted if they lose their home.
No one in Rossendale and Darwen could have a more doughty champion than my right hon. Friend, and I listen to what he says carefully, but I think he will understand that those schemes that involve injecting large amounts of cash into the economy right now would be inflationary. So much as we sympathise with the difficulties and will do everything we can to help people seeing their mortgage costs go up, we will not do anything that would mean we prolonged inflation.
The cost of a two-year fixed mortgage in March 2021 was 2.57%; this week, it reached 6%. The Chancellor and the Economic Secretary have said there are no plans to change the Bank of England inflation target, meaning that the base rate that drives the mortgage rate will continue to rise as inflation stays stubbornly high, and mortgages will go up. In the absence of such a change, what do the Government plan to do to actually tackle the mortgage pain people are suffering?
First, I would say to the right hon. Member that he is talking about something that is being experienced across the world. In fact, interest rates have risen faster in the United States and Canada than they have here. The answer is that we will look at doing everything we can to help people under pressure, but we will not do things that would prolong the inflationary agony that people are going through. We have to be very careful, because a lot of the schemes that are being proposed would actually make inflation worse, not better.
On the issue of inflation, the Office for Budget Responsibility said in March that inflation was due to peak at 2.9% at the end of this year. By May, the Bank of England had forecast that it would be 5% at the end of this year, so it had almost doubled in the space of two months. Given that headline inflation is still 8.7% and food inflation is 16.5%, will the Chancellor guarantee today that inflation will be halved to 5%, as promised by the Prime Minister in January of this year?