Sunak’s ‘ideological’ statement ‘lets down’ people struggling with cost of living crisis says Wales’ finance minister
Wales’ Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has said the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement has let down people struggling with the rising costs of living.
Households across the UK are facing a significant squeeze in living standards as inflation rises. April will see more pressure on household budgets, with energy bills and National Insurance contributions both rising.
Rishi Sunak softened the blow by announcing that the threshold that earners pay national insurance will be raised to the same level, £12,570, as they begin to pay income tax.
He also announced a one-year 5p cut in fuel duty, to take effect from today.
But the Welsh Government had called for measures including increasing welfare benefits, a windfall tax on big energy companies, and introducing a low income energy tariff to better target support to lower-income households.
Despite the OBR almost doubling its inflation forecast to 7.4% from 4% for this year, the Chancellor limited the uplift in benefits to just 3.1% – after a below inflation increase of 0.5% last year.
Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “People will be right to feel let down by today’s threadbare statement. Bills are rising rapidly and disposable income is falling, but there is not enough in today’s statement that recognises the struggle many are facing.
“It’s an ideological, regressive statement from the Chancellor that lacks practical measures to help those who need help the most – there is nothing for those who cannot work and those on lower incomes.
“The UK Government has squandered the opportunity to provide meaningful support. It exposes an out-of-touch Chancellor and exacerbates the fairness gap running through Westminster’s lacklustre approach to the cost of living crisis.”
Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford added: “This Spring Statement lets down people already struggling with the rising cost of living. Bills are rising rapidly and disposable income is falling. UK Government has wasted the opportunity to provide meaningful support and practical measures to help those who need it the most.”
But the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart said the announcement “tackles the huge challenges facing Wales and the rest of the UK, with a package of support to ease the pressures everyone is experiencing around the rising cost of living”.
“The war in Ukraine has now brought new challenges, but today’s measures show that we are continuing to build a stronger and more secure economy for the whole of the United Kingdom.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats accused Welsh Conservative MPs and MSs of “utterly failing” to make their voices heard in government.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said the announcement contained nothing of significance to help people in rural areas deal with the cost of living crisis, particularly the “extortionate costs” of heating faced by those living in rural Wales.
“Today the Chancellor has given rural regions nothing to help them cope with the crisis my residents are facing in being able to heat their homes,” she said.
“Welsh Conservative MPs are clearly failing to influence the Chancellor despite almost exclusively representing rural parts of Wales.
“The cut to fuel duty is welcome, but only will take between £2-£3 off filling your car. It alone does not rise to the occasion. What we would have liked to have seen was the rural fuel duty relief scheme expanded to parts of Wales like Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd. We have been calling for this since 2015, but have been blocked by the Conservatives at every point.
“More importantly, the Chancellor has refused to introduce a windfall tax on oil and gas companies that we would want to use to double and expand the warm homes discount. Oil and gas companies are making record-breaking profits while the rest of us are suffering.
“This is especially true in Mid & West Wales where in some counties up to 23% of households live in fuel poverty.
“Finally, the Chancellor made no announcement to protect those reliant on heating oil and LPG. With large numbers of households across rural Wales off the national gas grid, the bare minimum the Government could have announced was a plan to include oil and LPG into the energy price cap or to implement an automatic fuel duty rebate if the price of heating oil reaches over certain levels.
“This spring statement has made it abundantly clear that Welsh Conservative MPs are failing to make their rural constituents’ voices heard in an increasingly London and southeast centric Government.”
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