Rishi Sunak says ‘silly’ to give families more help with bills right now

Chancellor admits he own family in ‘fortunate’ financial position – but won’t consider new support on energy costs until autumn

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 27 April 2022 20:26 BST
Rishi Sunak says ‘silly’ to give families more help with bills right now

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said it would be “silly” for the government to provide more help to families struggling with energy bills despite the mounting cost of living crisis.

Desperate Britons are facing an average £700 increase in their gas and electricity bills after April’s energy price cap rise – with another 50 per cent spike expected in October.

In an interview with Mumsnet, Mr Sunak rejected the idea of further help in the immediate months ahead – insisting that he was willing to make himself unpopular by sticking by his spending plans.

Asked by one disabled user whether he could do more on energy bills, the chancellor said he had already provided support through his £200 “energy rebate” loan and £150 council tax rebate.

Mr Sunak said: “We’ve said we’ll see what happens with the price cap in the Autumn. I know people are anxious about this and wondering if they are going to go up even more.”

Hinting at possible action closer to October, he said: “Depending on what happens to bills then, of course, if we need to act and provide support for people, we will.”

He added: “But it would be silly to do that now or last month or the month before when we don’t know exactly what the situation in the autumn will be … We’ll see where we are with that if we need to do more.”

Mr Sunak said he had rejected the opposition call for a windfall tax on fossil fuel giants because the government did not want to put off investment in new oil and gas extraction in the North Sea.

But he hinted that he could change his mind if they did not invest in greater supply. “If we don’t see that type of investment coming forward and companies are not going to make those investments in our country and energy security, then of course that’s something I would look at, and nothing is ever off the table in these things.”

The chancellor was cleared on Wednesday of breaching the ministerial code by Boris Johnson’s standards adviser Lord Geidt after considering the tax affairs of the chancellor and his family.

Quizzed about how someone in his financial position can empathise with people struggling, Mr Sunak, whose wife is the daughter of a billionaire, harked back to his grandparents who emigrated to the UK “with very little”.

The senior Tory added: “Of course now I’m in a fortunate position – but I didn’t start like that, that’s not how my family started.”

Mr Sunak also told Mumsnet he is ready to make himself unpopular by focusing on keeping of borrowing down over fears for homeowners rates and for “our kids’ future”.

The chancellor explained he was not “being mean”, adding: “The other thing is I care about the future – my kids, everyone else’s kids.”

Roughly half of the public have a lower opinion of Mr Sunak than they did a year ago, a poll published by Ipsos MORI on Wednesday has found.

Not only did 51 per cent of people say they felt less positively towards him now than a year ago, more than two in five Conservative voters said the same thing, while only 10 per cent felt more positive about him.

Boris Johnson was branded an “ostrich” with his head in the sand as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised cost-of-living concerns at PMQs.

Tax rises in people’s latest payslips have the PM’s “fingerprints all over it”, Sir Keir said before he labelled the Conservatives the “party of excess oil and gas profits” due to their rejection of a windfall tax to cut energy bills.

But Mr Johnson repeatedly claimed Labour has “no plan” and defended his government’s economic record, saying of Sir Keir: “This guy is doomed to be a permanent spectator.”

It comes as the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president dismissed the idea of cutting food tariffs – discussed at a cabinet ideas meeting this week – saying it will not fix UK’s cost of living crisis.

Minette Batters said it would “not even begin to deal with the problem” and it would be “misleading” for ministers to suggest it could help consumers by cutting supermarket prices.

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is reportedly keen to cut tariffs on food that cannot be produced in the UK, such as rice.

But international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan dismissed the idea on Wednesday, telling MPs: “In terms of tariffs, it’s a tiny, tiny proportion, 0.4 per cent, on the cost of living. That isn’t really where the key areas are.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine described Mr Sunak’s comments as “totally tone deaf”. in the middle of a cost-of-living emergency

“Families being hit by soaring energy bills need support right now, instead Rishi Sunak is clobbering them with unfair taxes,” said Ms Jardine. "The chancellor should offer an emergency tax cut to help families now, not make more vague promises about the future."

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