Martin Lewis discusses Rishi Sunak’s spring statement
Chancellor Rishi Sunak cut fuel duty and softened some of a looming National Insurance increase in his Spring Statement on Wednesday. But Government forecasters have said Britons face the biggest hit to their living standards since records began in the 1950s – even after Mr Sunak’s measures.
Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker, speaking before Mr Sunak appeared in the House of Commons, said: “It’s incredibly concerning. We’re hearing of some food bank users declining potatoes and root veg because they can’t afford the energy to boil them.”
Mr Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the pressure of trying to keep prices down was relentless.
He urged Mr Sunak to act on energy prices, which have soared due in part to increased global demand as countries emerge from Covid lockdowns.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, accused the Chancellor of failing to create any security for people on the lowest incomes.
Foodbank users are avoiding veg because of how expensive it is to cook, Iceland’s boss says
Rishi Sunak on his way to present the spring statement to Parliament
She said that failing to bring benefit payments in line with the true cost of living had created a real-terms cut to social security payments.
Ms Revie told Sky News: “People are already making impossible decisions between heating and eating, and we know people are skipping meals, unable to afford to run cookers and fridges and taking on debt to buy the essentials.
“This is not right. This decision will mean many more people will have no option but to use a food bank.”
The Chancellor told MPs he would double the Household Support Fund to £1billion in order to do more to help the most vulnerable households with rising costs.
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A man walks past a terraced house, the walls of which bare graffiti reading ‘food bank’ in Leeds
Volunteers at Community for Food are seen unpacking donations in Edinburgh
He said local authorities would receive the funding from April.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, said what really stood out in Mr Sunak’s spring statement was what was missing, with no move to top up benefits in line with sky-high inflation forecasts.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicted inflation will now average 7.4 percent this year and peak at 8.7 percent in the fourth quarter.
This would represent the highest level since the oil shock of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
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Mr Johnson said: “In the face of what the OBR calls the biggest hit to household finances since comparable records began in 1956/57, he has done nothing more for those dependent on benefits, the very poorest, besides a small amount of extra cash for local authorities to dispense at their discretion.
“Their benefits will rise by just 3.1 percent for the coming financial year. Their cost of living could well rise by 10 percent.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research warned that Mr Sunak’s failure to raise benefits in line with the inflation forecasts would mean millions of families would be pulled into hardship.
Its executive director, Carys Roberts, said: “We’re going into the biggest incomes squeeze in a generation and yet the Chancellor hasn’t offered the help that many households need.
Richard Walker is managing director of Iceland Foods Group
“His plan is woefully out of touch with the reality facing millions of families, who face being pulled into poverty and debt.
“To prevent the cost-of-living crisis becoming a living standards catastrophe, the Chancellor needed to find ways to get targeted support to those with the greatest need, but he has sadly failed to ‘do what it takes’.”
Charity Christians Against Poverty’s Director of External Affairs, Gareth McNab, said the Chancellor should have up-rated benefits by seven percent in April to help the poorest families cope.
He added: “There was so much the Chancellor could’ve done but didn’t. The announcements today ignored people in the toughest situations – people unable to work because of disability or ill-health, people with caring responsibilities and renters.”
Number 10 said in a statement: “The Chancellor provided an update on the economic and fiscal picture, and described the outlook as challenging given the global shocks we are facing as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and rising inflation.
“He said that throughout the pandemic, the Government has shown the British people we are on their side and we will continue to stand by them through the uncertainty that we now face.
“He described how the sensible management of the public finances enabled the Government to step in and help people with £9 billion of support for their energy bills in February.
“He said that this Government would continue to take a responsible and sustainable approach in order to be able to grow a stronger, more secure economy for the future.”