Scotland’s Finance Secretary has accused Chancellor Rishi Sunak of plunging struggling families into a “heat or eat dilemma” by failing to address soaring energy bills.
Kate Forbes spoke out after the Conservative minister – who has been under fire over his family’s vast wealth and business links to Russia – delivered his spring statement last week.
She told the Sunday Mail: “He has done next to nothing for the hardest hit as poverty deepens in the face of the stark realities of the cost-of-living crisis.
“With soaring energy bills and benefit support that is not fit for purpose, the Chancellor missed his chance to help those most in need – what was delivered was mainly token gestures to help middle and high earners.
“Energy policy is fully reserved to the UK Government and yet there was nothing to address soaring energy costs which threaten to plunge households into a heat or eat dilemma.
“The chance to increase benefits meaningfully and make life a little easier for those really struggling went ignored.
“Failing to act now won’t just exacerbate the economic crisis, it will plunge more families into avoidable fuel poverty and that is completely unacceptable.”
It has been reported Sunak stopped an attempt by PM Boris Johnson to use the spring statement to unveil measures aimed at lowering energy bills.
The Chancellor announced he would cut fuel duty and raise the threshold at which people start paying National Insurance.
But he has faced tough questions about his wife’s billionaire family’s business dealings. Infosys – the firm founded by her dad de ella – has been accused of continuing to do business in Russia.
But Sunak’s No2 Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has insisted the spring statement paved the way for an economic recovery in the face of the pandemic and Ukraine crisis.
He told the Sunday Mail: “Putin’s war and the legacy of Covid are both driving up the cost of living and I know the anxiety this is causing for people across the country.
“More than two million workers in Scotland will be better off from July thanks to the raising of National Insurance thresholds – this will save the typical employee more than £330.
“A cut to fuel duty on petrol and diesel will save 5p per liter and help drivers every time they go to the pumps.
“This comes on top of more than £9billion of energy support for families, with a £200 energy bill rebate across Great Britain. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is receiving almost £300million to help families with the cost of living due to measures announced in England.
“I recognize that inflation is a major concern to families across the United Kingdom and it will likely remain so for much of this year. That’s why we’ve taken action to address those pressures in a sensitive and targeted way.”
But Chris Birt, of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned that families are being driven into poverty and demanded benefits increases.
He said: “Many argued, including Conservative MPs, that the best way to support families against this tidal wave of costs would be to uprate social security payments in line with the inflation rate in April – predicted to be near eight per cent – rather than 3.1 per cent as planned.
“By ignoring those calls, the Chancellor has cut nine million families’ incomes by £500 in real terms, compounding the £1000 cash cut to Universal Credit last autumn.
“As things stand, we have got a 30-year high in inflation matched with a 30-year low in the basic rate of social security – so much for security.”
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