Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Boris Johnson admits soaring bills makes life ‘very tough’

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Ministers are “certainly looking at what we can do” to ease the growing financial burden on Britons facing soaring energy bills and rising consumer prices, the Prime Minister said. His hint at possible measures follows deepening anxiety among Tory MPs that the squeeze on families could wreck the party’s hopes of winning the next general election, expected next year or in 2024.

And Mr Johnson could today face a Commons revolt by Conservative MPs who want VAT on domestic energy bills scrapped.

A string of the party’s backbenchers are discussing supporting a Labour motion demanding parliamentary time for a Bill to abolish the levy.

One potential Tory rebel MP said: “Labour’s motion has been very craftily written. It gives backbenchers a chance to seize control of Commons proceedings to force legislation through.

“This is a real chance to get VAT on energy bills scrapped. I’m seriously considering voting with Labour on this.”

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak meets Tory backbenchers to discuss their concerns and ideas for alleviating financial woes.

Mr Johnson acknowledged the worries about living costs during a visit to his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency yesterday.

He said: “I understand how difficult it is for people, I understand the pressures that people are facing on household finances. This is the result of global price spikes as a result of the economy coming back from Covid. But it’s making life very tough.

“And we’ve got to make sure people are aware of all the things they can do, all the money we’re putting in via councils to help people in hardship, the cold weather payments, the warm homes discount, money for pensioners.

“The package to support people and particularly to support the cost of heating is about £4.2billion.

“But I understand how difficult it is. And we’re certainly looking at what we can do.” 

Mr Johnson accepted that energy costs were “just one component” of the pressures on households, with inflation running at more than four percent and expected to hit six percent in the spring.

The PM said: “We’ve got to help people, particularly people on low incomes, we’ve got to help people with the cost of their fuel, and that’s what we’re doing. I have been meeting the Chancellor constantly, I met him last night to talk about it.”

Housing Secretary Michael Gove yesterday said ministers will look at a “look at a range of options” to add to government support already in place.

In response to Labour’s call for cuts to VAT on energy bills, Mr Gove added: “The more we can cut taxes the better, but at this point, the prudent and responsible thing is to recognise we need to provide support most for those in the most difficult circumstances.”

Downing Street officials said the Government recognised there were “increased costs on things like both food and fuel” globally.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We have a wide array of measures in place to help those most in need ‑ be it the Universal Credit taper, the rise in the minimum wage, the energy price cap, or the half a billion-pound household support fund.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of having a “vacuum of leadership” on the issue of living costs.

He said: “Energy bills are going through the roof. That particularly impacts the elderly and the vulnerable and the Government is doing absolutely nothing about it, they are asleep at the wheel. 

“So we have put forward a plan that will reduce energy bills for all households by just under £200. We will reduce it for those who are most in need – on lower and middle incomes ‑ by £600.”

Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “Tory MPs who have previously backed a VAT cut on home energy bills ‑ should follow through with their promises and vote with Labour today to scrap the tax for a year, as hard-working people face a growing cost-of-living crisis.”

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