With fuel, energy and food prices rocketing and annual inflation at 6.2 per cent – the highest in 30 years – Chancellor Rishi Sunak had been coming under increasing pressure to put measures in place to support low and middle income families.
Addressing Parliament yesterday, in what has been described as a mini budget, the Chancellor confirmed he was placing a 12-month five pence reduction on fuel duty.
To support the poorest families, the Chancellor said Local Authorities will get another £500m for the Household Support Fund from April, creating a £1bn fund to help vulnerable households with rising living costs
He also raised the income threshold at which point people start paying National Insurance from £9,568 to £12,570. However, despite calls from MPs on all sides of the house, Mr Sunak confirmed the Government were pressing ahead with the 1.25 per cent National Insurance pay increase set to be brought in next month.
Responding to the statement, Mrs Bailey said: “Today was an opportunity to protect those on the lowest incomes across our region from even greater hardship in the face of the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. That opportunity was well and truly missed.
“Instead of ensuring benefits such as Universal Credit will keep pace with inflation next month – the bare minimum required from the Chancellor to give people a chance of keeping their heads above water – we have yet another inadequate, short-term discretionary fund for hard-pressed local councils to administer, to try and prevent families from being pulled into destitution.
"This doesn’t begin to meet the scale of the challenge ahead of us.
‘Our national social security system was already failing in its most basic function – to provide a dignified safety net that means people, both in and out of work, can afford the essentials – with many thousands of families across our region facing absolutely impossible, daily decisions about what more they can cut back on.
"That picture is now going to get much, much worse unless the Chancellor urgently changes course.”
While benefits are set to increase by by 3.1 per cent in April, inflation is projected to be 7.25 per cent by then. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a national charity with the aim of solving poverty - has calculated that 400,000 people could be pulled into poverty by this real-term reduction to benefits.
Think tank, the Resolution Foundation, have said 12.5 million people will be unable to afford all their basic necessities and the Government’s own forecasters, the Office for Budget Responsibility, said UK households faced the biggest drop in living standards since records began in the 1950s.
Defending accusations his measures don’t go far enough, Mr Sunak said: “As a result of the pandemic, borrowing spiralled up to levels not seen since WW2. I had to introduce the Furlough scheme while providing support to schools, councils, businesses and the NHS.
"That’s pretty exceptional and so it’s no surprise dealing with the aftermath is also pretty exceptional. I can’t make every problem go away but where we can do we want to make a difference and that’s what yesterday’s statement was about.”