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No extra help for families facing ‘very difficult winter’, Downing Street says

‘We already have schemes in place to help people out over the winter,’ No 10 insists

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 21 September 2021 13:12 BST
'We’re focused on helping the vulnerable' - Kwarteng on energy crisis

There will be no extra help for families hit by huge gas price hikes, No 10 says, despite a Cabinet minister warning of “a very difficult winter”.

The business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng acknowledged the impact on “vulnerable” households, also facing the prospect of the Universal Credit cut and tax hikes next year.

And Damian Green, the former de-facto deputy prime minister, is among Tories worried about the rising cost of living creating “very, very difficult times ahead for hundreds of thousands of people”.

But Downing Street rejected the idea of “any additional help”, saying: ‘We already have schemes in place to help people out over the winter.”

Boris Johnson’s deputy spokesman pointed to a “range of support that we already make available to people over the winter, to help them to support them with the energy payments”.

They are “the warm home discount, the winter fuel payments, cold weather payments, which will continue to support millions of vulnerable and low-income households with their energy bills”.

Asked why – if those measures are sufficient – Mr Kwarteng is warning of “a very difficult winter”, the spokesman said: “We want to build back better from the pandemic and the prime minister has committed to levelling up across the country.”

The cost of living crunch looms after Ofgem hiked the price cap from an average of £1,138 per year to £1,277 from next month, for someone on a standard variable tariff.

But that does not take into account the current soaring wholesale prices rises – which are expected to push the cap above £1,500 next April, one energy price comparison website said.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at the website USwitch warned: “There is a timebomb there, where it can go up again in April and consumers are already struggling to pay the bills.”

Meanwhile, the £20-a-week Universal Credit cut it set to go ahead from next month, after a last-gasp move by senior Tories failed in the Commons on Monday.

The Independent revealed on Sunday that the price cap will remain in place, after cabinet minister Alok Sharma appeared to say it might be lifted – but critics say it is not enough.

Mr Green suggested there would be about 500,000 people at risk this winter, saying: “These are people many of whom are already working very hard to keep their families’ heads above water.

“Already the £20 cut was going to be difficult for them. Now we see we’re going to get rising energy prices, and we’ve already seen that the growth in inflation is faster than it has been for a generation.

“There’s the possibility of very, very difficult times ahead for hundreds of thousands of people in this country.”

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