Spring budget statement reaction: 'more could have been done to help least well off'

A leading official of Fylde Foodbank feels more could have been done to help the least well off families in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s spring statement.
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Foodbanks are busier than ever, with more and more people turning to them as they face rising grocery and household few bills.

Soaring inflation, accompanied now by the economic effects of the Ukraine invasion by Russia, are leaving ever more families battling to make ends meet and Chancellor Rishi Sunak looked to help alleviate it that situation with several measures, including a 5p cut in fuel duty for 12 months and raising the National Insurance personal threshold will rise from £9,500 to £12,570 from July.

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VAT on energy saving materials will be scrapped, meaning typical family installing roof top solar panels will save £1,000 on installation, and then £300 annually on their energy bills, while the existing Household Support Fund, distributed through local authorities in England, will be doubled to £1 billion and is expected to benefit 3 to 4 million vulnerable households.

Chairman Neil Reid with members of the team at Blackpool Food BankChairman Neil Reid with members of the team at Blackpool Food Bank
Chairman Neil Reid with members of the team at Blackpool Food Bank
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But Linda Nulty, co-ordinator of Fylde Foodbank at Kirkham, said she felt more should be being done to help the poorest families.

"I’m disappointed that more isn’t being done to ease the situation for those on benefits,” she said.

"Everybody’s suffering at the moment of course but those who had least in the first place are especially badly hit and those on Universal Credit are still reeling from the withdrawal a few months ago of the £20 extra set aside for recipients during the pandemic. A car fuel price cut is little good to them, as they don’t even have a car.

Co-ordinator Linda Nulty at Fylde Foodbank in KirkhamCo-ordinator Linda Nulty at Fylde Foodbank in Kirkham
Co-ordinator Linda Nulty at Fylde Foodbank in Kirkham
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"Prices of everything are rising and more and more people are turning to the foodbanks, many of the new faces often a little embarrassed to have to get supplies that way. But the message is that we are here for them and the Fylde public are very generous with donations, so the supplies are there for all those who need them.”

Neil Reid, chairman of Blackpool Foodbank, feels however that the economic crisis is so great that it is not possible to solve in “one fell swoop”

"We are in this for the long haul and it’s not a matter of a quick fix,” said Neil.

"The Government is in a difficult position and expectations of the media and the public can be unrealistic.

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"The world is in a mess and everything is having a huge effect on the man and woman in the street. At some stage, I think the economy will require a whole root and branch rethink.”

The spring statement came in for criticism from Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who said on Twitter: “Households and businesses are seeing soaring energy costs right now – that could plunge thousands into fuel poverty.

“There was nothing in the spring statement to reduce energy bills today or uprate benefits.”

Ahead of the statement, Ms Forbes had urged the Chancellor to take action on the impending cost of living crisis, including by matching a Scottish Government pledge to uprate benefits by six per cent.

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But Blackpool South MP Scott Benton welcomed the statement, saying: “The situation in Ukraine reminds us that the United Kingdom’s security and ability to be a force of good in the world is in large part based on the strength of our economy.

“That is why this Government is going further to strengthen our economy, publishing a new Tax Plan to reduce and reform taxes – including cutting fuel duty, cutting the basic rate of Income Tax and cutting National Insurance for 30 million working people – meaning people can keep more of what they earn.

“This Tax Plan delivers the biggest cut to personal taxes in over a quarter of a century – simplifying our system in the long-term whilst we deliver immediate relief for cost-of-living pressures.”

Chancellor Mr Sunak said: “It is only because this Conservative Government is taking the tough but responsible decisions that we can announce taxes are being cut and debt is falling.

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“Today’s new Tax Plan will help families with the cost of living, create the conditions for private sector-led growth, and share the proceeds of growth fairly.

“We are delivering the biggest net cut to personal taxes in over a quarter of a century, and that is only possible because of the disciplined approach to public spending that only a Conservative government can provide.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has sad rising prices and tax hikes mean living standards will not recover to their pre-pandemic level until 2024-25.

Living standards are expected to drop by 2.2 per cent this year, their largest fall in a financial year since records began 66 years ago.

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The OBR, which publishes its economic forecasts twice a year, said Russia's invasion of Ukraine had "major repercussions for the global economy, whose recovery from the worst of the pandemic was already being buffeted by Omicron, supply bottlenecks, and rising inflation".

The jump in oil and gas prices brought about by the conflict would "weigh heavily on a UK economy that has only just recovered its pre-pandemic level", it added.

Petrol prices had already risen by 20 per cent since the OBR's previous forecast, and household energy bills are set to increase by 54 per cent next month.

If wholesale energy prices remained as high as expected, then energy bills would rise by another 40 per cent in October, pushing inflation to a 40-year high of 8.7 per cent in the final three months of the year, the OBR has forecast.