Cost of living crisis: Boris Johnson and co are failing to show leadership as people face serious financial trouble – Christine Jardine MP
Week after week, the number of my constituents worried about their heating bills amid an increasingly difficult cost-of-living crisis grows. Exponentially.
In the fifth largest economy in the world, families are worried how they will keep their children warm and fed this year.
Pensioners are telling me they are wearing coats at home. It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be.
This week we reached something of a watershed in the cost-of-living crisis with the change in the energy price cap and a much-anticipated statement from the Chancellor.
What we got instead was Black Thursday.
Energy regulator Ofgem’s announcement of a 54 per cent increase in the price cap would mean average bills across the country reaching nearly £2,000 a year – an increase of almost £700.
In my constituency of Edinburgh West, the estimated average bill will be £1,084 per household.
And that is on top of the triple whammy of rampant inflation, mortgage rate rises and tax hikes that we all face in coming months.
The Chancellor promised great things to help, but fell short in his delivery. Again.
What we hoped for was a targeted package of measures to get families through this and some way of clawing back the huge sums contributing to the extraordinary extra profits of multi-nationals at our expense in a pandemic.
Instead we got little more than a massive gamble. A spin of the roulette wheel with tax-payers money.
Basically the Chancellor is promising discounts totalling around £350 to help with an increase per household which he quoted as £695.
But nobody will be able to benefit until October, six months after the rise kicks in, and the £200 energy element is a loan to be paid back over five years.
For some families, the government’s ‘gesture’ will barely touch the sides of the problems that the increase will bring.
In Scotland, we will receive Barnett consequentials proportionate to the money councils in England will receive for hardship payments and the council tax discount.
But this time, we must ensure that the Scottish government improves on previous performances and gets the money to those who need it.
And then there is the gamble. What happens if the price continues to rise or simply doesn’t come back down?
If people are still faced with crippling fuel bills, they will now also have the added cost of a loan repayment which, while it may not seem much on its own, is a debt which none of us asked for or were consulted in.
For months, opposition MPs have been calling on both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to act before the crisis hit. To hold a summit with other political parties, stakeholders and consumer groups to plot our way through a storm we could all see ahead.
Instead they not only waited until we were engulfed by it, but added on a hike in National Insurance and stealth taxes by freezing the threshold so that even after their pitiful support announced last week the average family will be left £1,000 a year poorer.
And alternatives strategies are on the table. My own party the Liberal Democrats’ cost-of-living rescue package would cut people’s bills by around £1,000.
It would take £300 off struggling families’ heating bills by doubling and expanding the Warm Home Discount and fund support through a “Robin Hood” tax on excess profits of energy companies.
The party would also scrap the planned National Insurance tax hike being introduced by the Conservatives in April, and ensure low-income families can access cheaper broadband deals.
In Edinburgh West, as many as 4,727 households would stand to benefit from the full package of support, saving them up to £975 each a year while almost 25,000 others would save up to £734, thanks to the scrapping of both the National Insurance hike and the stealth tax on the income tax personal allowance. And pensioners would receive the expanded Warm Home Discount.
Most importantly it would put protecting people first. There are times when our tribal style of politics at both Holyrood and Westminster frustrates me.
This is one of those times, made worse by the ever-sinking ship that is our government.
We have all gone to the House over the past few months armed with suggestions, proposals and options for the government.
All have been rejected. Often with an unhealthy dose of arrogance about the financial prudency of this Conservative government.
The same one which has lumbered us with billions of pounds worth of useless PPE and is writing off almost £5 billion of fraudulent claims on support schemes during the pandemic.
Perhaps if this government wasn’t so mired in its self-created problems for breaking its self-created regulations, it might have time for the people it was elected to serve.
As I write this, five senior aides to the Prime Minister have resigned. Their reasons are not surprising, yet still grim. There are more good people on the Conservative benches as tired of the antics as the rest of us are.
They stumble from problem to problem, and crisis to crisis as the country becomes more impatient. The lectern appears, announcements made, money – never enough – thrown at the problem, and usually a short term fix.
Never the strategy, vision or courage to provide a long-term solution. These big, but often hollow and ineffective gestures draw a veil over so much of the suffering in this country.
The pain and loss of a pandemic now exacerbated by financial hardship. And all the time, leadership is the thing we have lacked. It’s time to change.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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