Cash-strapped Britain needs ‘Cost of Living Minister’ say backbench Tories

Inflation is expected to hit 10.25% by the end of the year and a further increase in gas and electricity bills is expected in October. Former Brexit minister David Jones said Boris Johnson should consider appointing a minister with a mandate to work across departments as a “champion of the ordinary citizens of this country”. He said:  “Just as the Prime Minister appointed a dedicated vaccination minister to coordinate the response to Covid – another crisis of global proportions – so he should consider appointing a dedicated minister to coordinate the response to the surge in prices.”

Last week former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb and education committee chairman Robert Halfon also made the case for a dedicated minister.

The proposal has been backed by Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, which champions the interests of the over-60s.

He said: “It’s a very good idea because it would focus the attention of the UK on the problems that we are currently facing. The cost of living crisis needs to be treated with the same sense of importance as the pandemic because of its impact on virtually everybody apart from the very wealthy.”

Strong support came from Lord Alton of Liverpool.

He said: “A cost of living minister could play a hugely important part in combatting the horrendous challenges now facing millions of Britons in their everyday lives.”

He warned that surging food and energy prices had left “many households in dire straits,” adding: “A minister with a cross cutting brief concentrating minds in all Government departments on the impact of their policies on the cost of living would be a step in the right direction and make it a top priority across Government.”

Lord Woolley, the founding director of Operation Black Vote, said: “A cost of living minister is exactly what the nation needs right now, as Government struggles to fully understand the often impossible lived experiences that too many families and individuals are facing in this present fuel crisis.”

Morgan Vine of the charity Independent Age stressed that a cost of living minister would need the authority to challenge the Treasury.

She said: “A dedicated minister for cost-of-living could have the potential to drive forward measures that mean older people aren’t forced to skip meals or ration their gas and electricity. But to really make a difference the minister will need the political authority to challenge all departments including the Treasury to up their game, the ability to overcome financial and practical barriers to action, and the power to ensure that the voices of older people in poverty are heard.”

Lord Jones of Birmingham, a former director-general of the CBI, said the idea has “merit” but warned that “any perceived shortfall on delivery would be punished”.

He said: “Standing up to the energy companies, the banks and the major retailers and reaching out to the consumer is a much-needed brief but it must be outwith the Treasury and must be capable of producing results. Given the huge power of [the Treasury] the person chosen would have to have certain talents.”

Liz McKean of War on Want cautioned that a “dedicated minister, whilst a good start, is not a silver bullet” and called for action across Government to “tackle the shocking levels of structural poverty and inequality in this country”.

Gemma Hope of Leonard Cheshire, which helps disabled people lead independent lives, said: “A temporary dedicated minister with a responsibility for tackling this crisis is a good idea in principle – but only if this is backed by political will and the financial support to match. Currently this is lacking, and without it, a dedicated role would be nothing but virtue signalling.”

Sam Tims, an economist at the New Economics Foundation, warned that the “poorest 25 percent of households are over 10 percent worse off this year than last” with the average cost of living going up by £2,300 in a year.

While he said a new ministerial post “could help” he argued the Government has yet to “exhaust the policy solutions staring them in the face” and pushed for measures such as a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies. He also said that benefits should increase with inflation.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock did not support the appointment of a dedicated minister.

He said: “We have a cost of living crisis minister. His name is [Rishi] Sunak.

“He’s increased tax and National Insurance, failed to restrain energy bills [and] added to costs with the bureaucracy of Brexit.

“Having another Tory MP to confront him would be a gimmick, not a strategy.”

Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK – the successor to the Brexit Party – also argued that the country did not need a new minister but a “proper, competent Chancellor”.

Matthew Patten of the Centre for Social Justice said there was only “one person in a position to take control of the cost-of-living crisis” and that was the Prime Minister.

He said: “He can use the power and flexibility of Universal Credit, one of the most advanced social security systems in the world, to get more financial assistance to the very poorest by making the system more responsive to rising energy prices while helping thousands into better paid work.”