Scheduled to discuss the £15bn cost-of-living support package he announced last month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak appeared in front of the Treasury committee yesterday and was also subjected to a barrage of questions relating to the Prime Minister, a few hours before last night’s vote of no confidence was due to take place.
“I’m not entirely sure what this [session] has to do with the statement,” Sunak replied when committee member Angela Eagle MP asked him to respond to former Treasury minister Jesse Norman’s letter to Johnson, in which Norman described the Prime Minister’s claims of vindication following the publishing of the Sue Gray report as “grotesque”.
“I think political stability has a lot to do with how we perform economically, Chancellor,” Eagle replied ahead of the no confidence vote, which Boris Johnson would go on to win 211 to 148. “I support the Prime Minister,” Sunak told the committee.
Was the support package just a smokescreen?
Sunak defended his decision to announce the cost-of-living support package on 26 May, the day after the Gray report was published, claiming it was at a time when energy regulator Ofgem had a better idea what prices would be like in the autumn.
“After we knew what the size of the problem was, [it] meant that we could get the support right,” Sunak said. “Had we done something months ago… [support] probably wouldn’t have been sized appropriately, and we wouldn’t have been able to then make sure we provided the reassurance that we were able to do.”
Unimpressed with his response, committee member Siobhain McDonagh MP told Sunak: “When the government gets in crisis, tax money can be thrown at everything in order to get off the hook.”
Does what’s been announced go far enough?
Despite inflation continuing to climb and energy bills set for further increases in October, Sunak believes the measures he announced last month will help people sufficiently.
“Three-quarters of the money we announced goes to those vulnerable households and pensioners, where the most vulnerable third of households – those who are on means-tested benefits – will receive around £1,200,” he said. “Which is… roughly approximate to the expected increase in energy bills on average year over year.”
What about those who may fall through the cracks? Dan York-Smith, director of strategy, planning and budget at the Treasury, told the committee that a £500m increase in the Household Support Fund would provide people with “an opportunity to get… targeted support via their local authority”.
Will more support come?
Over the past two years, Sunak said he has been “responsive to the economic situation”, but made no explicit promises of future support, even if the Ofgem energy cap does increase as expected later this year.
“It’s not possible for the government to fully insulate people from increases in the cost of living and inflation; it’s not as if it’s something we can precisely try and eliminate,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be right to have a policy that is designed to do exactly that, because chasing a target like that could be dangerous,” Sunak said, adding that he believes the package announced a few weeks ago will make a “significant difference” for people.