During a debate in the House of Commons, James highlighted the pressures people in North West Norfolk are facing with increasing prices, importance of helping people into work, and the new support to help deal with energy price increases.
Text of James' speech
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on an issue that really matters to my constituents and the constituents of Members across the House: the cost of living increases. Contrary to some of the contributions we have heard today, the reality is that the challenges we face in the UK are the same as those facing other major economies—global inflationary pressures as the world economy rebounds after covid. That is undoubtedly causing strain on families and their ability to pay bills, and it is right that we support those most in need. I think it bears repeating that the best way to help people is to support those who can work to move into jobs. Our record is strong, with more than 400,000 people on payrolls now than prior to the beginning of the pandemic. We need to help them to gain skills to move into even more highly paid roles.
As a Conservative, I want to see people keep more of the money that they earn. To help the lowest paid people do that, we are increasing the national living wage to £9.50 an hour from April for workers aged 23 and over. That represents an extra £1,000 a year for a full-time worker. Nearly 2 million families on low incomes will benefit from £1,000 a year through the cut in the universal credit taper and increases to work allowances. However, we also need to redouble our efforts to help people without a job to move into one of the 1.2 million vacancies across the country. In my constituency, there are 1,800 people on unemployment-related benefits. Although that represents a lower rate than the national average, it still represents untapped potential for individuals. Employers in my area, whether in food processing or in other parts of the economy, are crying out for staff, so I welcome the newly launched Way to Work scheme to match people to roles that exist in North West Norfolk and across the country. It is also important to recognise the direct support through the half a billion pound household support fund to help low-income households with the cost of food and other essentials, as well as the increase in the value of Healthy Start food vouchers, which the Minister referred to.
The motion refers to sustainably high quality food, which is precisely what Norfolk excels in producing. Now we are liberated from the bureaucratic inflexible common agricultural policy, we are free to reform our agricultural sector and champion British produce internationally. I know from my discussions with the Minister that the food strategy, which we look forward to seeing soon, will have much more to say on that, on procurement and on food security.
Turning to the motion’s reference to the energy crisis, it claims that Britain is
“uniquely exposed to a global gas crisis.”
What a load of nonsense. The clue is in the word used by whoever drafted the motion, “global”. Other countries face the same challenges from the rise in wholesale gas prices that we are facing. Some 80% of the increase in the energy price cap here comes from wholesale prices. The motion is silent on Labour’s moratorium on nuclear power, which meant that our nuclear fleet has not been replaced as rapidly as it should have been. I was advising the then Energy Minister in the then Department of Energy and Climate Change when the deal for Hinkley Point C was being negotiated. That power station is on track to open in 2026. With the financing legislation passed in this House recently, we can unlock further investment in the new nuclear we need.
My hon. Friend talks about nuclear power. It is quite interesting, actually, because I wonder if he can recall that, in 1997, the Labour manifesto said, “We can see no economic case for the building of any new nuclear power stations.” Does he think now, moving on 20-odd years, that they regret that?
I do remember and we are dealing with the consequences. Eight advanced gas reactors are coming offline in the next few years and we do not have enough capacity to replace them rapidly enough. That is why the work the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is doing to bring forward the regulated asset base model to get financing into nuclear power is so important.
What did the Government do in the face of increased energy price caps? They came forward with a £9 billion package to help reduce their impact on people. That is the political choice that we made on the Government side of the House. Some 88.75% of properties in my constituency will receive £150 off their council tax bills in April. Then, in October, there will be a £200 rebate through energy bills. For the people in my area living off the gas grid, that will be paid through energy bills, so they benefit too. However, those people are facing an issue with the steep increases in the price of domestic oil, which is not subject to a price cap.
A constituent contacted me last week to say that before the pandemic they were paying 19.6p per litre but last week they filled up at 55p a litre. So I ask the Minister to communicate with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ask whether it can consider a referral to the Competition and Markets Authority to address those concerns about increased costs. Furthermore, councils will get £150 million to give targeted support to people not getting the council tax rebate. Others have spoken about the warm home discount, winter fuel payments, cold weather payments and other support measures that exist. In contrast, the Labour party proposes a regressive tax cut that would benefit the richest households most.
The challenges that individuals and families are facing are real. However, today, once again, we have heard arguments that pretend we can in some way be immune to the global pressures driving increased costs; that somehow we alone can keep energy prices artificially low. The British public are wise and realise that that is fantasy economics. In contrast, this Conservative Government will continue to help people with the day-to-day costs they face and drive economic growth, jobs and investment.