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Iceland boss says foodbank users ‘declining potatoes because they can’t afford energy to boil them’

Richard Walker says cost-of-living crisis ‘most important domestic issue we’re facing as a country’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 23 March 2022 11:20 GMT
Supermarket boss says food bank users ‘declining potatoes’ as cooking costs too high

Some foodbank users are declining potatoes and root vegetables because they cannot afford the energy to boil them, the managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain has claimed.

The comments from Richard Walker come amid increasing concern over the imminent hike to the energy price cap on 1 April by more than 50 per cent — from £1,277 to £1,971.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is facing intense pressure ahead of the spring statement to increase government support, after an already announced £350 package of measures was labelled inadequate.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme — just hours before the chancellor addresses MPs — Mr Walker said the government would be right to focus on the consumer on Wednesday.

“I think the cost-of-living crisis is the single most important domestic issue that we’re facing as a country and it is incredibly concerning,” he insisted.

“You know, we’re hearing about some food bank users declining potatoes and root veg because they can’t afford the energy to boil them. Rightly focus on the consumer”.

He later added on Talk Radio: “The situation is that severe. Phrases like a choice between heating and eating sound overly dramatic, but it is a reality when you’ve got no money to spare in the first place”.

But he added that business was “not an endless sponge that can soak it all up”, suggesting the energy price cap for individuals could be extended to businesses, potentially paid for by a windfall tax.

Mr Walker claimed Iceland was “doing everything we can” to support customers at its 1,000 stores in the “poorest communities around the UK” as food prices also rise.

“But of course the pressure is relentless and it’s coming at us from all angles at the moment,” he stressed, saying that prices had increased in the supply chain, with shortages of workers and higher transportation costs to blame.

He added: “And then finally we have operational cost pressures as well in the running of our shops. National minimum wage will increase our cost base by 20 million quid.

“We have green taxation of £16 million next year, and we have, of course, electricity bills which are going to rise many times over, and that will disproportionately affect bricks and mortar retailers, such as ourselves.”

His remarks also come as a poll for The Independent shows voters overwhelmingly support a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas companies to support families with unprecedented hikes in energy bills.

The Savanta ComRes survey also found majority support – including among Conservative voters – for Mr Sunak to scrap next month’s 1.25 percentage point rise in national insurance contributions (NICs), cut fuel duty, and introduce a £10-an-hour minimum wage.

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