Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
We’ve known for weeks that energy bills are going to rise come April. In the last few days, reality has hit. Millions of households have now been informed of just how much their gas and electric costs are expected to rise, and it’s not looking pretty. For many, payments will more than double.
Since Russia began its assault on Ukraine, prices have jumped further. It’s predicted our bills could treble. Higher energy and fuel prices may be a price worth paying to save innocent Ukrainian lives – but there’s no escaping the fact British people are going to be hit hard in the pocket.
Inflation was already chipping away at our spending power, with disposable incomes expected to shrink by at least two per cent this year. The cost of the weekly food shop is rising at its fastest rate since the start of the pandemic, and the cost of fuel at the pump has reached new records.
Overall, the rate of inflation, already at a near 30-year-high, is forecast by the Bank of England to hit 7.25 per cent. At the same time, the Chancellor has saddled us with the highest tax burden in 70-odd years.
Postponing, or ideally scrapping, the national insurance rise due to come in the spring would be one immediate way to prevent incomes from being squeezed further. Raising welfare payments for the vulnerable would also act as a sticking plaster as inflation bites.
However, it won’t be through redistribution, the welfare system, or delaying tax rises that we get to grips with the cost-of-living crisis. A fundamental rethink of strategy is required.
Ten years ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs estimated that by eliminating government interventions in areas such as planning, energy markets and childcare, families would save up to £750 a month. Since the Government has continued to give into interventionist demands, you can imagine this number is now considerably higher.
When it comes to energy, the Government may not be able to determine global prices, but they can control domestic policy. With prices at historic highs, it’s undeniable that the state has failed in what should be its primary duty: ensuring affordable security of supply.
The Government’s decision to restart North Sea development was welcome, but the moratorium on fracking has left us dangerously vulnerable to geopolitics and the whims of corrupt regimes. Endless domestic energy efficiency schemes have failed – and at the expense of the taxpayer. Attempts to pick technological winners with expensive subsidy schemes have left us out of pocket.
And the failed, anti-conservative energy price cap predictably neither changed underlying costs, nor guaranteed lower bills for consumers.
Meanwhile, house prices continue to rise – yet ministers continue to stall progress when it comes to much-needed planning reform. Faced with an average UK asking price of £348,804 (close to £700,000 in London) Michael Gove chose to cave into NIMBY, Luddite demands, watering down a promising new planning law that might have actually done something to ease the housing crisis.
As one Telegraph reader asked: “Is the UK the only country where people think that if they own a house they own all the land they can see from it?”
Tory MPs were reportedly “delighted by the climbdown”, but while the decision may prevent seats from being lost in the shires it’s unlikely to bring long-term electoral success. Is the average middle-class Tory voter, forced to rent into their middle age, really going to put their cross in the Conservative box?
Ministers had a chance to something about the cost of living, but they bottled it. There can be no excuse for a government with such a majority to be unwilling to take the short-term political pain that comes with reforming land use rules for the benefit of generations to come.
The Conservatives’ dogmatic approach to reaching climate targets must be replaced by a policy agenda that prioritises security and affordability of supply first and foremost. The Government must also rediscover its commitment to lowering the tax burden across the board.
It seems ministers in attempting to appeal to everyone, are at risk of appealing to no one. And people’s pockets are being squeezed as a result.