Don’t punish low income families in Spring Statement as pressure grows on Rishi Sunak over cost of living crisis and rising heating bills – Justine Greening

I WAS shocked when my energy provider recently emailed me about how much my bills were projected to rise – a massive £950 a year.

Not least because there have been times in my life when I know that finding that amount of extra cash would have felt totally unaffordable.

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And it’s alongside other price rises at the petrol pumps, in supermarkets and online. Things could get worse if the crisis in Ukraine pushes energy costs even higher later this year.

Pressure is growing on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to act over the cost of living crisis in next week's Spring Statement.

It underlines that although our attention might be on the terrible situation in Ukraine, closer to home the rising cost of living is another acute and unfolding crisis that Britain faces.

January already saw the biggest real term fall in wages since 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics and with eight per cent inflation forecasted in April, millions of families face a dire financial situation in the months ahead. The Treasury’s original £9bn package earlier this year to support families facing energy price hikes feels overtaken by events.

And whilst the National Insurance rise hitting us all and employers next month is to help the NHS clear covid-related waiting lists and in the longer term pay for improved adult social care, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for families and businesses who are seeing prices spiral across the board. It feels like there is little respite ahead.

So the Chancellor’s Spring Statement next week is an important moment to take action and a clear-headed sense of purpose for both the short and long term can help Mr Sunak navigate through.

Pressure is growing on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to act over the cost of living crisis in next week's Spring Statement - Justine Greening,a former Education Secretary, writes today that the Government is duty-bound to support low income families.

Having been a Treasury Minister in 2011, the last time the oil price was surging alongside inflation, I know just how hard those Spring Statement decisions will be. Yet supporting low income families through this time is crucial.

I grew up in a family where we managed on a tight household budget, and my parents taught me a sense of financial responsibility of not living beyond your means. When they are already doing their level best to manage financially, these economic headwinds shouldn’t be allowed to push ordinary families on lower incomes into debt.

Prevention is better than cure, so whether through extra targeted welfare support or taxation changes, the Chancellor should take further steps to help next week.

Let’s also recognise the longer-term nature of this challenge. Its impact could be to set back and harm the prospects of the very families and communities that levelling up needs to help most.

Pressure is growing on Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Richmond MP, to act over the cost of living crisis in next week's Spring Statement.

And it will also feel like economic groundhog day, as it’s always the same families and the same communities, generation after generation, who find themselves on the front line 
with the toughest challenges when the economic headwinds hit.

That’s because for too many people, Britain remains a place where, socio-economically, you tend to stay where you start. Advantage accumulates, but so does disadvantage. It’s why I work so hard on improving our country’s social mobility.

And it cannot be right that at the very same time that millions of families are feeling the pinch, Britain’s employers also face a skills shortage, unable to fill better-paid roles because they can’t find people with the right skills. We know it’s not a lack of talent because, as Ministers rightly tell us, talent is spread evenly, but it’s opportunity that’s not.

It means the best long term strategy is to put people more in control over their own lives, making the most of their potential, so that they can succeed for themselves and change their own circumstances for the better.

Not all the change has to come from the Government. Through my Social Mobility Pledge work, employers are showing that they can play a crucial role in breaking that cycle that traps people in lower pay jobs. Companies as different as Compass, Direct Line and law firm Shoosmiths, amongst many others, are helping talented people from all backgrounds get in and get on in their organisations, providing pathways to develop and progress to higher skilled, higher paid roles and careers.

Yet whilst employers can play a crucial role to help the cost of living crisis, there’s no getting away from the fact that a big part of it is about Ministerial decisions.

In my column in The Yorkshire Post last month, I noted how the Chancellor’s November Budget saw him having to take key public finance decisions well before the Prime Minister’s wider levelling up strategy was launched in February. The Spring Statement is the chance for the Government to not only help people facing inflationary pressures on household finances today, but to more fundamentally now set out its longer term investment strategy to 2030 to deliver its Levelling Up White Paper goals.

The cost of living crisis might well have materialised in the recent past but the skills shortage didn’t happen overnight and weak social mobility has long been our country’s status quo. These are systemic problems. It’s vital that next week’s Spring Statement sees beyond our present challenges, as difficult as they are, and takes the necessary steps to break the cycle and reshape our system for good.

Justine Greening is a former Education Secretary. She was born in Rotherham.

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