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CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement has plunged millions of households into “absolute poverty and despair,” campaigners said today, warning that a series of weak pledges will do nothing to tackle the mounting cost-of-living crisis.
The so-called mini-budget was delivered against a backdrop of rising fuel, energy and food costs as well as the announcement that inflation rose by 6.2 per cent in the last 12 months to February — the fastest increase in 30 years.
Mr Sunak announced that the threshold for paying National Insurance contributions will be raised by £3,000, along with a 5p cut to fuel duty, a doubling to £1 billion of funding for councils to support vulnerable households and a further £500 million for local authorites to continue to provide targeted welfare support to low-income households.
The Chancellor also announced an intention to cut the basic rate of income tax by 1p in the pound by 2024.
But millions of people still face cutting back on purchases of food and clothing to be able to afford their energy bills as the cost of living continues to skyrocket, with SNP shadow chancellor Alison Thewliss saying that the Spring Statement was a “missed opportunity” and that Mr Sunak “has failed to get a grip on the Tory cost-of-living crisis.”
Momentum co-chairman Andrew Scattergood said: “Rishi Sunak has just plunged millions of working-class people into absolute poverty and despair.
“As bills soar and energy giants’ profits skyrocket, the Tories barely lift a finger to help, even cutting benefits and pensions in real terms.”
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told the Commons that the Chancellor should have taken the opportunity to scrap the planned rise in National Insurance contributions and hit oil and gas companies with a windfall tax.
“For all his words, it’s clear the Chancellor does not understand the scale of the challenge,” she said.
“His choices are making the cost-of-living crisis worse, not better.”
But Mr Scattergood also rounded in on Labour for “passing up the change that people so badly need.”
He said: “Instead of demanding our energy system be taken into public ownership to control prices, the Labour leadership’s proposals would still see bills rise by hundreds.
“While anti-poverty campaigners call for an 8 per cent rise in benefits just to keep people’s heads above water, Rachel Reeves only proposes a 6 per cent increase. For millions on the brink, these half measures just won’t cut it.”
End Fuel Poverty Coalition co-ordinator Simon Francis welcomed the VAT cut on installing renewable or energy-efficiency measures and the increase to household support funds, but he said: “The fuel poverty crisis gripping this country will affect over 6.3m households from 1 April.
And he warned that there was very little in the statement “for these people, including the 2.5m families in fuel poverty.”
Child Poverty Action Group head Sarah Ogilvie said that none of the measures “came close to bridging the gap between what the lowest-income families have and what they need,” adding that many families will be “stranded in the face of the highest prices in a generation.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady highlighted the absence of support for workers in the Chancellor’s plans.
Ms O’Grady said: “In the midst of the biggest wages and bills crisis in living memory, Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement has failed families who need help now.
“After 12 years of Tory government, Britain needs a pay rise. But this Chancellor has no plan to get wages rising and give working people long-term financial security.”
On the much-trailed cut to fuel duty, Steven Sorrell, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, said: “Since the richest 10 per cent of UK households spend six times more on fuel than the poorest 10 per cent, most of the benefits go to the wealthy.”
Institute of Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said: ”The big omission from this statement was anything for those subsisting on means-tested benefits.
“They will be facing cost-of-living increases of probably 10 per cent, but their benefits will rise by just 3.1 per cent.”
Campaigners also took aim at the Chancellor’s attempt to use the war in Ukraine to justify rising inflation and spiralling poverty, with Symon Hill of the Peace Pledge Union branding it “classic militarism.”
He said: “Sunak is insulting people suffering in Ukraine as well as the intelligence of the British public.”
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