The two solutions to the cost-of-living crisis being pushed on the PM and chancellor by Tory MPs and energy companies respectively have serious flaws in common.They are very expensive and risk becoming semi-permanent rather than one-year fixes.Take the call, led by ex Brexit minister, Lord Frost for April’s £14bn increase in national insurance to be postponed.
If shelved, who among you think the time would ever be politically right to impose it?And if never implemented, there would be a gaping hole in the ability of the NHS to sort its record backlog of treatment and operations, and there would be an to end any credible claim by government to be mending the ragged social care system.As for the demand of energy companies for temporary funds from the Treasury to keep household power bills at roughly current levels, with the funds repayable as and when the market price of gas were to drop, that has two analogous defects.First it would cost between £15bn and £20bn in a single year - or three times the annual cost of the universal credit top-up for poorer households that was cancelled because deemed by PM and chancellor as wholly unaffordable.
And remember how much political pain they went through cancelling this cheaper top-up always billed as temporary - at a time when they were riding high in the polls. They won’t want to go through that again.Second there is no guarantee the gas price will fall significantly any time soon - and indeed further rises are probable, given the chronic instability of relations with the world’s biggest gas producer, Russia.
So there is no guarantee that the £15bn to £20bn of taxpayer subsidies to our energy bills would either be temporary or ever repayable.That is why Johnson - whose mind cannot be wholly focused on the cost of living, in any case - and Rishi Sunak are more minded to help protect living standards of the very poorest, through one off help targeted at the poorest, rather than via populist grandiose universal schemes that help rich end poor alike, and would be almost impossible ever to withdraw.