Following months of dithering and delay, the chancellor has finally acted to support families with the cost-of-living crisis. But for some, the measures are too little, too late.
The new support package will be partly funded by a temporary windfall tax on oil and gas companies – a move proposed months ago by opposition parties, which said the money raised could go towards helping households worse hit by soaring bills.
The new package of measures is costing around £15 billion and aims to address some of the criticisms of the first package, which was slammed for failing to match the scale of the cost-of-living crisis.
A partygate distraction?
Just last week Tory MPs were ordered to vote down opposition parties’ plan to impose a levy on the oil and gas giants.
The government is facing accusations that the timing of the announcement had been used to distract from the release of the damning Sue Gray report into the lockdown rule-breaking parties at Downing Street. Such claims are denied by No 10.
Instead of relief, the mood felt by many over the new measures is one of frustration, that the support was not introduced sooner.
On Merseyside, home to five of the top 10 hardest hit constituencies by the cost-of-living crisis in the whole the UK, the feeling is one of frustration, not relief. In the region of Bootle, one of the most deprived areas in Britain, using food banks, taking on second jobs and coming out of retirement to make ends meet has become a way of life for many.
Bootle constituent Jeanette Redmond talks of how her disposable income has shrunk to nothing. “All the nice things are being squeezed from life,” said Redmond, while noting how costs have increased but wages have remained stagnant.
Another Bootle resident said prior to pandemic she was successfully self-employed. Now she is on benefits and Universal Credit and relies on food banks. “After Covid, this latest crisis has left me feeling paralysed.
“It’s just one thing after another, and now it’s impacting on my mental health,” she told the Guardian.
‘Too little, too late’
Christine Jardine, Treasury spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, described the new support package as coming “too little, too late” for struggling families.
Noting to how the Lib Dems had called for a windfall tax in October, Jardine asked the chancellor: “Will he listen the next time when from this side of the House he gets an idea, a suggestion that would help the people of this country rather than hike up their taxes?”
In its evaluation of the windfall tax U-turn, the Mirror writes how the “chancellor deserves no credit for opening the purse strings.”
Referring to the support package as a respite, not a cure to the economic pain afflicting the nation, the newspaper continues that when so many people are struggling to pay rising food and fuel bills, it would have been “unconscionable for the government not to have provided more support.”
Assault on welfare benefits
The government’s assault on the benefits system has also been attributed to worsening the financial crisis for many.
The £20-a-week cut of Universal Credit (UC) in October 2021 was described by Gordon Brown as the “most morally indefensible thing I’ve seen in politics.”
Despite calls from senior Conservative MPs and anti-poverty campaigners to restore the £20-a-week uplift to UC, this week a Treasury minister ruled such a measure out.
“That is not going to return,” said Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury.
Summarising the frustration felt by many over the months of hesitation over getting support to desperate families, Olaf Stando, digital media officer at the SNP, said:
“Just a month ago, Rishi Sunak said it was “silly” to help families.
“Tory MPs consistently patronised poor people with degrading comments.
“The windfall tax is welcome (although too little, too late) – but the Tories are doing it out of desperation to distract, not compassion.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward