Northern Ireland news

Finance ministers call on British government to do more to help those ‘most in need'

Conor Murphy called the cost-of-living crisis "unprecedented". Picture by Mal McCann
Hannah Carmichael, PA Scotland Political Reporter

Finance ministers from the three devolved nations have urged the British government to do more in helping those “most in need” during the cost-of-living crisis.

Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy, Holyrood’s Kate Forbes, Rebecca Evans from the Welsh Government and Simon Clark, the UK Government’s chief secretary to the Treasury, met in Cardiff today.

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis was at the top of the agenda for the politicians as they attended a Finance Interministerial Standing Committee.

The ministers discussed what more could be done to assist people and businesses in coping with the soaring costs of food, fuel and energy as inflation rises.

It comes after a warning from Ofgem that consumers could be facing yet another increase to their energy bills, with costs set to rise by around £800 per year in October.

The three finance ministers joined forces to call on Westminster to use the powers available to do more in the way of support for those struggling.

Ms Forbes, Scotland’s Finance Secretary, said: “As we continue our economic recovery from the pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, we must firmly focus government and public sector resources on delivering clear priorities, including tackling child poverty, growing the economy and meeting our climate change targets.

“While we are doing all we can with the finite financial resources and limited powers currently available to us to tackle the rising cost of living, the UK government needs to use the powers at its disposal to help those most in need, including low-income households and families with children as well as businesses.”

Ms Evans, finance minister at the Senedd, said: “The UK government needs to use the levers at its disposal to take further urgent steps to target gaps in support, particularly to help lower-income households and families with children, and to boost businesses who are also feeling the impacts of rising costs.

“Removing all social and environmental policy costs from household energy bills, for example, and introducing a lower price cap for lower-income households would help them to meet the costs of their energy needs now and in the future.”

Stormont’s finance minister Mr Murphy said: “The collective message to Treasury today was clear – more must be done to help households and businesses facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis.

“While the Treasury has announced assistance for citizens, they must now look at supporting businesses which are also facing increased fuel and energy costs which are also facing increased fuel and energy costs against a backdrop of trying to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Along with the Welsh and Scottish finance ministers, I impressed upon the Chief Secretary to the Treasury the need for further measures to be taken. I once again called on Treasury to reduce VAT on energy bills.”

He added: “I also reiterated to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury the need to ensure the citizens of the North are not disadvantaged when it comes to the £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme payment because of the absence of an Executive. We have committed to continue the engagement between my department and Treasury to ensure a solution is found to deliver support locally.”

Discussions also took place on concerns over EU replacement funding, Covid recovery and the move towards net zero.

The ministers later paid a visit to South Point Primary School in Rhoose, the first net zero school in Wales.

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