Welsh minister blasts Chancellor over levelling up ‘soundbites’ as she sets out £380m support package
A Welsh minister has blasted Chancellor Rishi Sunak for only offering people “soundbites” about levelling up as the UK faces the biggest fall in living standards since records began.
Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt said that it was “completely unacceptable for a modern day society” that people were going to have to choose between heating and putting food on the table.
She said that the Welsh Government would put £380m to help tackle the problem despite the Treasury’s spend on the issue only providing the Welsh Government with an extra £27m.
“Despite widespread calls on the UK Government to deliver more support through the spring statement to help people who are struggling to meet the rising cost of household bills, the Chancellor announced an increase of just £27 million in the Welsh Government’s resource funding for 2022-23,” she said.
“The cost-of-living crisis is affecting every household across Wales, disgracefully, we have people that are being forced to make the unfortunate decision of whether to heat or to eat.
“This is completely unacceptable for a modern day society. If the UK Government were serious about tackling the problem we would see real solutions and not soundbites about levelling up, when it’s clear for all to see, they’re levelling the country down.
“Despite the lack of support and leadership from the UK Government, in Wales we are doing all we can, with the powers we have, to deliver for the most vulnerable.
“Over the past few months, we have been working with partner organisations, the third sector and community leaders to develop a series of targeted packages to help the most vulnerable in our society deal with this cost-of-living crisis.”
She added: “Despite the complete lack of leadership and real action from the UK Government, we in the Welsh Government will continue to work in partnership with our communities to deliver for the most vulnerable in our society.”
The UK Government meanwhile has defended its spending priorities after have critics attacked Chancellor Rishi Sunak for not doing enough to help families struggling with the biggest cut in living standards on record.
Last month he said that he understood families were struggling with rising prices but his options were limited because he is focused on shoring up government finances after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think most people will understand that an exceptional experience like (the pandemic) does lead to an exceptional response and that’s what we’re now grappling with,” Sunak told Sky News.
“But also we are continuing to invest in public services … and that, of course, needs to be paid for.”
During his Spring Statement, the Chancellor announced a package of measures to reduce the squeeze on consumers, including a cut in motor fuel taxes, more money for local government aid to low-income residents and raising the threshold at which workers begin to pay social insurance taxes.
The Minister for Finance and Local Government Rebecca Evans outlined the £380 million package of support that the Welsh Government has developed, including the Winter Fuel Support Scheme and the Cost-of-Living payment.
The Minister said: “Since last November, we have invested more than £380 million in a package of support for low income households to meet the immediate and severe pressures on living costs.
“This included funding for the Winter Fuel Support Scheme which provided a £200 payment for eligible households to help meet the cost of essential bills over the winter.
“We will also provide additional support for fuel costs for the coming winter and are considering how we can widen the scheme to ensure more people receive the £200 payment.
“The package of support will also fund a £150 cost-of-living payment for households in Council tax bands A-D and to all households who receive support from the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
“A further £25m is available to local authorities in the form of a discretionary fund to provide additional and targeted support for households struggling with the massive surge in the costs of living. A further £15m has been made available for the Discretionary Assistance Fund to provide financial support for those experiencing extreme financial pressures, extending the additional support until the end of March 2023.
“In addition to this, we will continue to put pressure on the UK Government to use the significant levers they have to support the most vulnerable through the difficult times ahead.”
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