By Connor Steel
STUGGLING HOUSEHOLDS were given a financial boost earlier this week as the Government announced a £15 billion ‘cost of living’ support package for the majority; with a parliamentary statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak being seemingly welcomed by local MPs Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) and Suella Braverman (Fareham) as they start their Whitsun recess.
It comes as Mr Sunak addressed the House of Commons Chamber on Thursday lunchtime in a bid to reduce the financial stresses on British voters as inflation levels soar to levels not seen in over forty years; this statement building on a £22 billion package announced in February that included a repayable £200 off energy bills for all and £150 off council tax bills in preparation for annual rises seen in early April.
Reiterating this previous package to MPs, the Chancellor announced that the requirement to repay the £200 energy bill support over a two year period was to be scrapped and further doubled to £400 for every household. This ‘rebate’ will start being paid from October 2022 in preparation for winter, a period in which energy prices are expected to rise further in reaction to the current world events.
Eight million pensioners who are eligible for winter fuel payments will get an extra £300 paid into their bank accounts to help them in the colder months; but must be born on or before September 26, 1955. Separately an extra £150 payment will be paid to those on disability benefits such as PIP or Disability Living Allowance, although it is not clear how these will get paid or when with no timeframes announced.
Another headline was the announcement of a one-off payment to be paid to eight million households under lower incomes and claiming certain but not all benefits; including Universal Credit, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Pension Credit amongst others. These payments will be split into two parts with one set to start in July and the next in October, although eligibility rules will apply and claimants must have already been on their respective benefits on May 25 (Wednesday) to qualify for this support.
Finally an extra £500 million was allocated to the Household Support Fund; a scheme launched in October 2021 to help Britain through winter before being extended in March’s Spring Statement. The fund is delivered by local councils who can support hard-hit people with grants or vouchers for certain things, such as heating and food bills. Each council will vary with their support levels, with a varying share of the now £1.5 billion fund allocated to each across the country; alongside different application processes and eligibility criteria.
Mr Sunak said this support would cost £15 billion overall, which would be partly paid by a temporary targeted energy profit levy of twenty five percent on oil and gas firms (otherwise referred to as a windfall tax). This will start immediately with hopes of raising £5 billion by the end of the year and is due to phrase out when prices return to normal, with a sunset clause of December 2025 included for review by Government if required.
However the support was criticised by opposition MPs with Labour condemning the wait to introduce the package, having first called for the ‘windfall tax’ in January this year. The party also claim that the “dither and delay” has cost taxpayers a total of £53 million in bills that could have been avoided; something which was supported by the Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party leaders in Westminster.
Businesses have further slammed the so called ‘windfall tax’ as they argued that it was harsher than expected; whilst the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) chief economist Rain Newton-Smith stated it ultimately“ “sends the wrong signal to the whole sector at the wrong time”, as he pointed to a “backdrop of rising business taxation”. Meanwhile a statement from the Carer’s Trust say the omission of carer’s allowance on the list of qualifying benefits for the £650 one off payment.
Their Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kirsty McHugh, said in a press release: “We welcome, of course, the additional financial support for low-income households, including extra cost of living support for those on disability benefits. But we are extremely disappointed to learn that unpaid carers have been shut out of additional support yet again with Carer’s Allowance excluded from the benefits listed as qualifying for the extra £650 one-off payment for those in greatest need.”
There are also accusations that the Government were using this announcement as a distraction from the damming Sue Grey report, which was published in full on Wednesday. It concluded that many events ‘should not have been allowed’, finding that cleaners were victims of “multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment” and that Downing Street officials “must bear responsibility for this culture”.
But despite the criticism of this report that saw more Tory MPs resign from top jobs and critics slamming the new package, it has been welcomed by the majority in Government including Dame Caroline Dinenage. In a statement published on her website and a press release, she wrote:
“Despite the £22 (twenty-two) billion in support that has already been announced, many of my constituents are worried about the pressures that lie ahead. We know the Government can’t protect households from the full impact of the global economic pressures, however this timely announcement will provide much needed reassurance. This package equates to £1,200 in support for those on the lowest incomes – around one-third (1/3) of all households (across Britain).”
Although Suella Braverman has made no public comment on the announcement at the time of writing, she has liked an official Conservatives Party tweet from Thursday afternoon advertising the new support package for writings. She further visited the new ‘pop-up jobcentre’ on West Street, Fareham; where she spoke to work coaches about the Way to Work scheme and faced questions on how the DWP will help implement the ‘cost of living’ package to its claimants over the coming months.
For more information on the cost of living package, readers can visit the Government website link. Local residents are further encouraged to check their respective Gosport and Fareham Borough Council websites for any updates, alongside more tailored advice on what they can claim and how to apply for the payments.
PICTURED BY JESSICA TAYLOR (UK PARLIAMENT): Rishi Sunak addresses the Commons on Thursday as he announces further support for hard-hit households in Britain.