I wrote the column below on Monday for this week’s paper.
I asked in that column whether ex-hedge fund manager Rishi Sunak would have the capacity to understand the very real worries of people facing spiralling fuel bills, tax rises and inflation. And whether he would rise to the challenge in his Spring Statement today by raising benefits, pensions, dropping that NI rise and taxing the oil giants to help people with their bills at a time when many will be overwhelmed.
He doesn’t and he didn’t.
Instead, he left that NI rise there, took some tax off solar panels (like anyone can afford to buy them now?!), a bit off petrol tax, and an income tax cut of 1p…but only in 2 years time?!? The Conservatives may not even be in power then!
He and the Conservatives have again fallen short when people needed help urgently, now. —————————————————————
I watched the BBC’s money saving expert, Martin Lewis, sound the alarm on Sunday morning television. He was warning about the upcoming cost of living crisis. Inflation (particularly on food and rent), energy bill increases and VAT and council tax rises are all going to impact at once next month.
His most eye-watering prediction was that 10 m
illion people could end up in fuel poverty by the winter. The energy price cap is set to rise in April and again in September, leaving people with an extra £1,300 to pay on their energy bills. What is even more worrying for us, is that although nationally 14% of people live off the mains gas grid, that rises to 47% in Cornwall. The energy cap doesn’t apply if you buy your oil or gas by the barrel or bottle, so almost half of the people in Cornwall have no protection against skyrocketing fuel bills. Add that to the fact that our housing stock is amongst the worst in the country for energy efficiency and our wages are 20% lower than the rest of the country, and it’s obvious that Cornwall is going to suffer badly when rises hit next month.
Martin Lewis said that he was ‘out of tools to help people now. It’s not something money management can fix. It’s no longer possible for those on the lowest incomes to protect themselves by cutting things out or tightening their belts. We need political intervention’.
The political intervention he is talking about needs to come in the Chancellor’s spring statement which will b
e out by the time you read this in the paper. Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, is telling the Chancellor to scrap the 1.25% National Insurance rise that will cost the people of Cornwall £30.3million, or £179 each.
The government is also resisting Labour’s calls for a windfall tax on the huge profits of North Sea oil and gas companies, to pay for extra help with our energy bills. Shell made £19 billion in profit last year and BP made £4 billion in the last quarter alone thanks to oil prices rising. Using a small proportion of that to cut people’s bills rather than the oil giants giving it away in dividend payments or share buybacks, at a time when millions of people in this country are facing absolute poverty, surely makes sense. As does raising benefits more in line with inflation (which is now at about 6%) to protect the poorest and the elderly when the rises kick in. The Chancellor has the money available to do this as inflation has also led to higher tax receipts.
I don’t know whether the Government will do the right thing. I don’t know whether the Chancellor has the capacity to understand what it’s like at the moment on the ground in places like Cornwall and what the next few months could be like. Parents are scared about their ability to feed their children and inflation is peaking in a way the current generation has no experience of. If he sticks to his plans of 6 months ago then he will show a real lack of care and disregard for people on low incomes. As Martin Lewis says, when things are about to get this bad, we need political intervention.