“I’m a Chancellor who has had to deal with a pandemic,” said the Richmond MP in a curt response to the Treasury Select Committee.
Yet, while Covid’s economic impact is incalculable, this is cold comfort to all those families facing acute hardship due to the cost of living crisis. They’re already having to manage without everyday essentials as Mr Sunak faces sustained criticism for not doing enough to support low income families in last week’s Spring Statement.
Now Mr Sunak argued, with reason, that he had to make a careful judgement about borrowing levels at a time when inflation is at a 40-year high. He also pointed to the current volatility in global energy prices – one of the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – for choosing not to do more at this particular time.
Yet this was an extremely underwhelming Parliamentary occasion. Mr Sunak appeared to be in denial about the hardship facing families – he said the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is still to work out how best to distribute £200 ‘heat now, pay later’ energy credits to those households that use prepayment meters. He also could not explain how families will repay the money in time – even though he devised the policy. “It’s a BEIS-led process,” said Mr Sunak in a blatant abdication of responsibility.
And that he was able to do so was due, in no small part, to the disjointed questions from a committee headed by former Treasury minister Mel Stride who previously presided over the notorious loan charge. They lacked the forensic focus of other select committees, hence why MPs, just like the Chancellor, now need to raise their game as the cost of living crisis begins to change the political – and economic – outlook of all.
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