Gordon Brown accuses Sunak of not 'caring' about people struggling with living costs

30 March 2022, 08:30 | Updated: 30 March 2022, 09:15

By Asher McShane

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown accused Chancellor Rishi Sunak of not "caring" about millions of people struggling with the cost of living.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC, Mr Brown, who also served as Chancellor from 1997 to 2007 said "any caring and compassionate chancellor" would have taken further steps to alleviate the cost of living crisis that went beyond what was announced in the Spring Budget last week.

He said millions of struggling families face "a winter of real suffering".

"We can’t make up the difference that is lost when the government won’t raise benefits, he said.

"They made things worse by taking away £20 a week last October".

Read more: Mum 'uses wax melt burner to cook beans on toast for her kids' as cost of living soars

"I don’t think he [the Chancellor] understands what’s happening. What we took to be a welfare state, no longer exists in the same way.

"People cannot afford to turn up the heating. We’ve got mother’s who can’t afford cookers and they can’t give their children hot food. This should not be happening in 2022."

He said tips and advice for people on how to make their money go further “will not be enough.”

He said the chancellor’s 5p cut to fuel duty and other measures announced in the Spring Statement were not enough.

"Which of these measures help a family who don’t have a car?" he said.

“Nothing last week” came for people who are struggling to make ends meet," he added.

“He had nothing for them,” he said. "There’s a group of people that need urgent help.”

Yesterday the chancellor told the Commons Treasury Committee it would have been "irresponsible" for the Government to have borrowed more to raise benefits in the face of rising inflation.

Mr Sunak defended the choices he had made in last week's spring statement.

The committee chairman, Conservative MP Mel Stride, said the Chancellor had done "very little" for those who were out of work and relying on benefits.

Mr Sunak said: "If someone's view is Government can or should make everybody whole for inflation - particularly inflation at these levels caused by global supply factors - then that's something that I don't think is doable."

He said that raising benefits by the current rate of inflation - which is forecast to rise to more than 8% - rather than what it was last September, would have added £25 billion to Government borrowing in the period up to 2026-27.

He said that "irresponsible" borrowing levels risked stoking inflation even further, adding to the pressure on living standards.

"We are already forecast to borrow in this coming year about 60% more as a percentage of GDP than our post-war average, 20% more as a percentage of GDP than we were forecast to borrow in October, so it is already a significant amount of borrowing," he said.

"My view is an excessive amount of borrowing now is not the responsible thing to do."

Mr Sunak said his decision to announce he intended to cut the basic rate of income tax from 2024 would inject "discipline" into the debate about public spending levels.

"Now having something to aim for means that hopefully we can have a more disciplined conversation about incremental public spending at this point, which is already at very high levels," he said.

"My priority at this point forward is to keep cutting taxes, not increased public spending."

Mr Sunak said the rise in inflation was affecting developed economies around the world as they emerged from the pandemic, while at the same time as dealing with the fallout from the Ukraine crisis.

"That is happening in Europe, it is happening in the US," he said.

"It is a result of the recovery from coronavirus, which was very clear and apparent in goods prices particularly, and then has been accentuated by the crisis in Ukraine which is causing an upward spike in energy prices."

He said energy prices in particular remained highly volatile - in part as a result of international sanctions imposed on Russia - and could continue to affect the UK economy.

"We have very wild swings in what may or may not happen. At the top end some of those numbers are hugely, hugely significant to the UK," he said.

"The actions we have taken to sanction Russian and continue to do so are not cost-free."

Mr Sunak denied he was delaying the publication of the Government's new energy security strategy - intended to reduce the UK's reliance on imported hydrocarbons - which had been expected this month.

The Financial Times reported it will not now be released until April 4 at the earliest, as the Chancellor was resisting pressure from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for additional funding.

Mr Sunak told the committee: "I'm certainly not blocking anything and the Prime Minister continues to work through the details of that.

"Given how important it is, I think it's important that we get it right. It will impact lots of different things and it's being worked on at pace between all the relevant ministers."

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