'Biggest fall in living standards on record': Sunak fails to stop cost-of-living crisis

It was a spring statement that may ease the pain, some experts say, but by no means extinguish it, as Deputy Editor Anushka Asthana reports

The chancellor has announced a raft of financial changes in an attempt to address the worsening cost-of-living crisis - but it hasn't stopped the "biggest fall in living standards" since records began, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Rishi Sunak has cut fuel duty by 5p and raised the threshold for people to pay National Insurance but he's been unable to nullify the impact of inflation reaching a 40 year high, as the OBR has forecast.

Inflation is forecast to hit 8.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022 and to average 7.4% over the year, with wages failing to keep pace with rising prices - and the growth prediction has been cut from 6% to 3.8%.

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The OBR said inflation - combined with rising taxes - will "weigh heavily on living standards in the coming 12 months".

“The rise in inflation to a 40-year high this year is expected to reduce real household disposable incomes on a per-person basis by 2.2 per cent in 2022-23 - the biggest fall in living standards…since records began in 1956-57", it added.

Mr Sunak warned MPs the nation must prepare for "the economy and public finances to worsen, potentially significantly" because of the impacts of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He told MPs that sanctions on sanction Putin’s regime "are not cost free for us at home" and the Office for Budget Responsibility says there is "unusually high uncertainty" around the economic outlook.

Robert Peston on the worst squeeze on our living standards on record

Ahead of delivering his speech his told Cabinet colleagues that the economic outlook was "challenging" given the "global shocks we are facing" from the Ukraine war and rising inflation, Downing Street said.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke MP, asked if public sector workers would have to live with a cut in pay, said raising public sector pay in line with inflation would be "wildly unrealistic."

"Well we have a wider responsibility to all taxpayers to make sure that we manage the public finances responsibly, and everybody in both the public and the private sector is going to have to pay their full role in helping the country through this crisis," he told ITV's Peston show.

"It's really important, clearly, that pay restraint is observed across the public sector.

"We're not freezing public sector pay - there will be pay increases - but we're not in a position where we can start paying out eight, ten, 12 percent, and it would be wildly unrealistic to expect us to do that."

National Insurance threshold and income tax

Mr Sunak said he was exempting the lowest paid workers from National Insurance contributions and income by lifting the threshold by £3,000 from £9,568 a year to £12,568.

It means anyone earning below that amount will not have to pay a penny in National Insurance or income tax.

Affording even the basics is a struggle for some, as Northern Reporter Hannah Miller explains

And in 2024 the basic rate of income tax will be cut from 20 to 19 pence in the pound.

He said the changes are part of a new "tax plan", which will "help families with the cost of living", "create the conditions for higher growth", and "share the proceeds of growth fairly".

Fuel duty cut

Mr Sunak announced a cut to fuel duty of 5p, to encourage petrol providers to reduce the cost of filling a car from the record level it is currently at.

Fuel duty will be levied at a rate of 52.95 per litre for petrol and diesel, down from 57.95p.

There is a lot of pain for a lot of people ahead, as Economics Editor Joel Hills explains

He said it is the "biggest cut to all fuel duty rates ever".

The cut will be in place for 12 months from 6pm on Wednesday.

The average cost of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts on Tuesday was 167.3p, while diesel was 179.7p, figures from data firm Experian Catalist show.

This is an increase of 18p per litre for petrol and 27p for diesel over the past month.

Energy bills support

Mr Sunak said he will scrap VAT on energy efficiency measures such as solar panels, heat pumps and insulation installed for five years.

He said a family having a solar panel installed will see tax savings worth over £1,000. And savings on their energy bill of over £300 per year.

The price cap on energy costs will rise by 54% from April 1, increasing yearly costs for households on direct debit tariffs by £693 and by £708 for those on prepayment plans.

Support announced in February is designed to help, with a £150 council tax rebate for houses in bands A-D tp come in April, and a £200 discount on bills in the form of a loan from October.

Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis said the VAT cut is "limited and won't impact the majority of households".

He's estimated that by October - when the price cap is readjusted again - households will likely have seen a £1,300 average increase in year-on-year bills.

The chancellor described how the "sensible management of the public finances" enabled ministers to step in and help people with the support, which he says is worth £9 billion.

Household Support Fund

Mr Sunak said he is doubling the Household Support Fund to £1 billion, allowing local authorities to tailor more support to the families which need it most.

They will receive the additional funding from April.

No boost to Universal Credit

The chancellor resisted pressure to increase Universal Credit payments after removing the £20 uplift in October last year.

The benefit will increase by in April as it does each year in a bid to keep up with inflation but the 3.1% rise falls behind the rate of inflation, which is currently at 6.2% and could rise past 10% in coming months.

Institute of Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson tweeted: "The big omission from this statement was anything for those subsisting on means-tested benefits.

"They will be facing cost-of-living increases of probably 10% but their benefits will rise by just 3.1%.

"And (it is a) cut compared to last year if you account for withdrawal of £20 (Universal Credit) uplift."

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt said it's a "scary time ahead for millions of families with record rise in social & private rents on top of food, fuel, energy prices".

The OBR says household disposable incomes are set to fall by 2.2% - "the largest fall in a single financial year since ONS records began in 1956/7".

The OBR growth forecast

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) downgraded growth in gross domestic product - a measure of the size of the economy - from the 6% forecast for this year at the time of the Budget in October to just 3.8%.

Mr Sunak said the OBR had warned "there is unusually high uncertainty around the outlook".

"It is too early to know the full impact of the Ukraine war on the UK economy," he told MPs.

"But their initial view, combined with high global inflation and continuing supply chain pressures, means the OBR now forecast growth this year of 3.8%.

"The OBR then expect the economy to grow by 1.8% in 2023, and 2.1%, 1.8% and 1.7% in the following three years."

What does Labour think?

Mr Sunak's Labour counterpart Rachel Reeves accused him of "making an historic mistake" by failing to scrap the National Insurance increase.

And IFS director Mr Johnson tweeted that there's no extra money for health, schools or other public services despite "huge increase in inflation".

He said it "likely implies big real pay cuts for most public sector workers".

"E.g. (government) evidence to teacher review body asked for just 3% pay rise for most teachers as inflation averages over 7%."

The shadow chancellor told MPs about "Alice In Sunak-land" and described it as a place where "nothing is quite as it seems", as she criticised his spring statement for failing to help workers, pensioners and businesses.

"The actual reality is that this Chancellor's failure to back a windfall tax and his stubborn desire to pursue a national insurance tax rise are the wrong choices.

"In eight days, people's energy bills will be rising by 54%, two weeks today the Chancellor's tax hike will start hitting working people and their employers.

"His national insurance tax rise was a bad idea last September and he's admitted it's an even worse one today.

"The chancellor is making an historic mistake. Today was the day to scrap the tax rise on jobs, today was the day to bring forward a windfall tax, today was the day for the Chancellor to set out a plan to support British businesses.

"But, on the basis of the statement today and the misguided choices of this chancellor, families and businesses will from now on endure significant hardship as a result."

Watch Rishi Sunak's spring statement in full: