Rishi Sunak has been accused of “gaslighting” the country over the cost of living crisis as he repeatedly declined to rule out launching a bid to lead the Conservative Party.
The Chancellor has defended the package of measures he announced in his spring statement on Wednesday, after he had been criticized for not going far enough to those facing falling into poverty due to the rising cost of living.
But he said he had “always tried to be honest with people”, and said: “I can’t protect them from absolutely everything that we face.”
Mr Sunak said he was “anxious” on behalf of the country and said he knew rising financial pressures were “the number one concern that people have right now”.
Speaking the Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News, he said: “Families are struggling with the rising cost of lots of things and that’s why in the spring statement I wanted to make sure that we demonstrated we were on people’s side, and we announced the tax plan that will deliver the biggest net cut taxes, net cut to personal taxes in two years, in quarter of a century taken together.”
He said: “Where we can make a difference, we will, and I’m confident that the plan yesterday will do that.”
The Chancellor added: “I think what we’ve done is substantial. If you take together £9 billion to help people with energy bills announced last month, the significant tax cuts that we announced yesterday, they will all help. But of course they can’t mitigate all the difficulties that high inflation is causing. No chancellor could do that.”
Earlier, Downing Street said ministers stood ready to provide further support to households if required after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to suggest more measures could be announced.
Mr Johnson admitted it was “going to be tough” as households had to cope with rising prices and the cost-of-living squeeze.
He said: “It will continue to be tough, continue to be choppy but we will get through it and we will look after people throughout.”
Separately, he told LBC “as we go forward, we need to do more” and insisted the Government would “fix” the rising cost of living.
Richard Hughes, chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, said on Thursday that despite the measures announced by Mr Sunak, people still face an “unprecedented” fall in living standards.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the Chancellor had failed to protect the country’s poorest households.
But Mr Sunak insisted he had “protected those on the lowest incomes the most” in recent years.
Asked about figures from the Resolution Foundation think tank, which said 1.3 million Britons were set to fall below the poverty line next year, including 500,000 children, Mr Sunak told Beth Rigby Interviews: “Well, I mean, what we do know is the track record, because there’s lots of projections and speculation about the future, but the track record shows that over the last 10 years, since we’ve had Conservative governments in charge, the number of people living in poverty has actually declined by about 1.3 million people .
“That includes 300,000 children from memory. So actually, that’s a record that I’m proud of.
“Now, obviously, a lot of that happened before I was in post. But the actions I’ve taken over the past couple of years have ensured that we have protected those on the lowest incomes the most.”
Told that it felt like the country was being “gaslighted” by his reassurances amid the rising costs and as inflation rose, he said: “I’m not denying for one second that inflation is difficult. Of course it’s difficult, and it’s most difficult for those on lower incomes.”
The Chancellor, who has been tipped as a potential successor to the PM, also failed three times to rule out that he could launch a leadership bid in the future.
He read a quote from Mr Johnson, who said in 2013 that being prime minister “would be a great, great thing to have a crack at”, if “the ball came loose from the back of the scrum”, and asked if he felt the same.
Mr Sunak said: “I’m much more a cricket and football fan, so I don’t know what the appropriate analogy is. But as we’ve talked about at the moment, there’s a lot going on, there’s a big job to do and I’m fully focused on doing that job and trying to do it as well as I can.”
Asked again, with a cricket analogy, if he would be interested, he said: “At this point, I’m just trying to stay at the crease and keep in place and not get out.”
Asked a third time, this time with a football comparison, he said: “We’re stretching these analogies too far.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.