Covid-style intervention needed to help families against rising prices, says John Lewis boss

Sharon White said the situation now is urgent and action is needed immediately. Credit: ITV/Peston

The chair of John Lewis has warned a massive injection of public money is needed to protect families from the cost of living crisis.

Dame Sharon White, who is also the former second permanent secretary at the Treasury, said the government must act with the same urgency against the current crisis as it did with Covid.

“The time absolutely has come for action whether it’s an emergency budget or whether it’s another vehicle,” she told ITV’s Peston show.

Figures illustrated on ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston's show reveal one in five NHS nurses do not know where their next meal is going to come from.

Ms White described that statistic as “shocking” and said action must be taken before the summer – and before energy bills potentially rise by another £1,000 in the winter.

“The decisive action we saw, I thought the government did incredibly well at pace and scale during covid,” she said.

“I think we need to see the same decisive action taken at speed and at pace, because otherwise the figures you’ve just shown… they impact millions of households across the country.”

She added that the country faces “at least as pressing a challenge with the cost of living crisis” as it did with Covid, meaning a hit to public finances is “imperative” and not just worth taking.

As calls for an emergency budget mount, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, analyses calls for and against what could be a potential lifeline for those at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis.

“That hit is either going to happen to households, to families, people on low incomes, or we take a decision that given the scale and everything that’s happening… actually a temporary hit on public finances is worth it,” she said.

Households have seen soaring energy bills in recent months, with inflation forecast to hit 10% and welfare payments and wages falling behind the increase in prices.

Asked if taxing BP and Shell on their profits and then subsidising those on lower incomes particularly with their energy bills, she said: "I think it's the right territory, I think certainly the government and the regulator need to act on that second rise.

"Now a windfall tax, it's not perfect but actually given the severity and the urgency of the situation, I think it's a reasonable approach."

However, secretary for Brexit opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg explained on the same show that there are unlikely to be tax cuts before the summer.

"It's very tempting to have some high-profile, whizz-bang event, that will not help deal with an inflationary problem,” he said.

Pressed on whether there would be any intervention before the autumn, he urged caution.

“You've got to be very careful about new stuff not making things worse rather than better,” he said.

“Because the risk is that you spend more money and you entrench an inflationary problem, and that makes it much harder.

“We must learn from the experience of inflation in the '60s and '70s when people putting off the problem led to inflation becoming embedded.”