UK doing all it can to help families through cost of living crisis, Welsh Secretary says
ITV Wales Cost of Living Correspondent Carole Green challenges Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart on the UK Government's handling of the crisis
The UK Government is doing absolutely everything it can to help families in Wales cope with the rising cost of living, the Secretary of State for Wales has said.
Speaking to ITV Wales for a special programme dedicated to the cost of living crisis, Simon Hart said the government is trying to strike a balance between helping families and preventing inflation from rising further.
Asked about the many families facing the choice between eating and heating, Mr Hart said the government was doing all it could to help them.
"We are doing absolutely everything we can to strike this balance, to keep the cost of living within reasonable control but at the same time keeping the lid on inflation and interest rates," he said.
"We are in for a tough time, nobody's denying that. We knew that the pandemic was going to have a financial hit, it has.
"We know that the war in Ukraine is going to have a huge financial hit, particularly around the energy sector."
Mr Hart also defended the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, after he was criticised from several angles in the aftermath of his recent Spring Statement.
Described by some critics as "woefully out of touch", the Chancellor had announced measures including a 5p cut in fuel duty, a raising of the National Insurance threshold and the promise of a future 1p cut in income tax.
Mr Hart dismissed criticism, saying it was "unnecessarily harsh" and that the Chancellor had done all he could to help people and families.
"Rishi Sunak has had a very difficult balancing act," he said.
Mr Hart continued: "In my view what he's done, for now and he's stressed for now, is to go as far as he reasonably can. He hasn't ruled out further measures.
"I think we need to really stand back and depoliticise this. The idea that he just misread the mood or misread the situation - he went as far as he thought he safely could for now to protect families and business across the country."
When asked how much his own electricity bill was going up by, Mr Hart said that like most people it was rising "by £650-£700 with the worrying caveat that, that may not be the last rise".
On opposition calls for a so-called windfall tax - which would see higher taxes levied at oil and gas firms such as BP and Shell - Mr Hart claimed it is a simple political argument to make that masks a more complicated reality.
"It's an easy solution to a very complicated problem to just say that we'll scan the horizon and look for some business or industry that is performing particularly well and go after them and impose taxes," he said.
"The argument around the energy sector - those profits are quite volatile, they go up and down so how would you actually structure that? But [energy firms] need to be part of the solution.
"We're trying to facilitate all kinds of investments to be able to help people manage their particular energy challenges."
Defending the Conservatives' handling of the economy over the past decade, Mr Hart said the government's austerity agenda had resulted in tangible economic growth.
"What we've been able to do by managing the economy in a sensible and professional manner is to make sure that we are the fastest growing economy in the G7 at the moment in a post-pandemic world," he said.
"We were able to roll out a vaccination programme that was second to none in the world, that is why our economy is growing.
"The economy is driven and survives on decent, sustainable jobs, that's what enable us to look after as best as we possibly can either the elderly or people in more challenging circumstances.
"There is nothing compassionate about borrowing unlimited sums of money, driving interest rates or driving up inflation. It may achieve a temporary populist tick in a box but if the ultimate conclusion of that is if we make life harder for people, we will not be thanked."
The Welsh Government has called for the uprating of welfare benefits and has also said the £20 Universal Credit uplift should be reinstated, after it was withdrawn last October.
On its own record to help people and families in Wales, Rebecca Evans, minister for finance and local government, said: "We have invested more than £330m to support people through the cost of living crisis, nearly double the equivalent support in England.
"But it is the UK Government that has the key levers, particularly through the tax and benefit system, to offer people more financial protection."