Economy secretary Kate Forbes calls for assurances on cost of living pressures
Finance secretary Kate Forbes has welcomed the short term action announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ease the cost of living crisis, but warned more support is needed for households and businesses as the cost of living crisis worsens.
Following calls from the Scottish Government, the UK Government has taken steps to ensure that cash grants, rather than loans, are provided to those on lowest incomes. Ms Forbes has also cautiously welcomed the decision to introduce a Windfall Tax on energy companies benefiting from significant profits but commented that it means Scottish industry is disproportionately funding interventions across the UK.
Responding to the Chancellor’s statement, Ms Forbes has said UK Ministers should have acted earlier and gone further to provide more support that would make a real long term impact, including following the Scottish Government’s lead by doubling the Scottish Child Payment to £20 per week – which is due to increase to £25 from late 2022 helping lift an estimated 20,000 children out of poverty in 2023.
Ms Forbes said: “Many households will be relieved to see the support belatedly announced today, but we still need a long term solution to the cost of living crisis and reassurance that the UK Government is going to tackle long term inequalities rather than provide one-off bursts of crisis support.
“Rather than listen to our plea for a comprehensive funding package that fully addresses the unprecedented rise in the cost of living and uses the full £30 billion of fiscal headroom, this piecemeal approach makes it highly likely that more support will be needed later when energy prices rise significantly in the autumn.
“There is also a severe lack of support for businesses – many of them are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and now face crippling increases in energy costs and the damaging impacts of Brexit on supply chains and the labour market. Without urgent economic support there is a real risk that the UK economy is heading for a recession.”
She added that inflation is at its highest levels in 40 years and the UK Government’s failure to fully invest in increasing incomes, tackling inequality and boosting economic competitiveness will only risk pushing households into further debt and poverty.
She urged that the UK Government has almost £30 billion of fiscal headroom, spending only half of this during a cost of living crisis does not go far enough, especially when a further £5 billion from the Windfall Tax will be raised.
Ms Forbes continued: “The introduction of a windfall tax is a start, but as a stand-alone measure this means Scottish industry is carrying the weight of UK-wide interventions.
“The removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift last year was a hammer blow to hard pressed families and the Chancellor’s failure to restore it and increase it to £25 only places a disproportionate burden on the shoulders of those who need help most. The statement was also worryingly silent on public-sector pay with no related consequential funding, when the lowest paid need urgent assurance in the face of rising inflation.
“The refusal to reverse the National Insurance increase implemented in April and temporarily suspend VAT on household energy bills will also cost families hundreds of pounds annually at a time when their budgets have never been more squeezed.”
She concluded: “The Scottish Government has already taken action to support people, communities and businesses as much as possible, with almost £770 million per year invested in cost of living support. We have increased eight Scottish benefits by 6%, closer to the rate of inflation, and introduced a range of family benefits not available elsewhere in the UK.