Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng acknowledged that some families faced hardship when Universal Credit uplift is axed as he battled to get to grips soaring global gas prices
Families face a “very difficult winter” as looming benefit cuts and rising energy bills hit household finances, a top Tory has admitted.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the cut to Universal Credit and rising gas prices could hammer Brits – despite repeated refusals by the Government to keep the £20-a-week UC uplift.
Boris Johnson avoided a potentially embarrassing revolt over UC on Monday after the Commons Speaker failed to select an amendment by Tory grandees Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green to halt the cut.
The row comes as the Government grapples with soaring global gas prices, which have triggered fears over food supplies and the threat of smaller energy firms going bust.
Mr Kwarteng insisted that the energy price cap would remain in place to protect customers from sudden hikes in their bills.
It is set to rise by £139 a year (12%) to £1,277 for a typical gas and electricity customer from October, when the UC uplift is set to end.
Mr Kwarteng said: “I’ve been very clear that the energy price cap is staying even though some energy companies I read today are asking for it to be removed, I’ve been very clear that that’s staying, so we’re protecting customers there.
“We’ve got the warm home discount, we’ve got winter fuel payments, which are again focused on the most vulnerable customers. So, we’re completely focused on helping vulnerable customers through this winter, particularly with regard to energy prices.”
Pressed on the cut to Universal Credit, he told the BBC: “It’s a difficult situation, it could be a very difficult winter.
“That’s why, as energy minister, I’m very focused on helping people that are fuel poor.
“Universal Credit, you will know, is an issue for the Chancellor and the Work and Pensions Secretary, I’m speaking to them a great deal about it.”
It also comes as Brits face an increase in National Insurance next year after the PM pushed through manifesto-busting tax hikes to pay for social care.
However Mr Kwarteng said these changes don’t come into force until April so it is “not strictly a winter issue”.
He was warned that some families could be forced to choose between eating and heating their homes this winter.
Good Morning Britain host Susanna Reid told him families would face “the choice between heating their homes and staying warm or eating, parents who may forego meals in order to feed their kids”.
She said: “You need to be able to offer them some hope.”
The Business Secretary replied: “You’re right, and that’s why I’m very keen to keep the warm home discount and also there are other winter fuel payments that we’re looking at.”
Asked whether he had requested that Mr Sunak raise the warm home discount, he said: “We have discussions about the Budget, and you will see what happens in the Budget. I can’t possibly preempt or anticipate what will be in that Budget ahead of time, you’ll appreciate that.”
The rise in energy costs has led to a crisis in the food supply chain because of a shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2), produced as a by-product in fertiliser plants.