The UK Government is being challenged to “urgently intervene” and help households struggling with rising bills, with finance ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland uniting to demand action.
Senior politicians from Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff joined forces to call for a plan to tackle what has been dubbed the “cost of living crisis”.
Their plea followed a meeting with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke.
Welsh Government finance minister Rebecca Evans said households “need to see urgent action from the Treasury to help people with rising bills and living costs”.
She said rising energy bills are a “particular concern at the moment, with more and more people living in fuel poverty”.
It comes after inflation across the UK rose to 5.1%, with households also facing higher bills for food and transport.
While Ms Evans said the Welsh Government had invested more than £50 million trying to help, “most of the powers and the fiscal resources needed to address the cost of living crisis are in the UK Government’s hands”.
She demanded: “The Treasury must step up. Additional support through targeted UK-wide schemes such as the Warm Home Discount and other winter fuel payments would lessen the burden on hard pressed households.”
Her call was echoed by Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who said: “People are facing a cost of living crisis and the UK Government, which reduced the lifeline Universal Credit uplift in October despite our representations, must now urgently intervene.”
She said ministers in Scotland had “set out a range of ambitious actions”, such as plans to double the weekly payment that goes to low income families to £20, but stressed Holyrood had “limited resources”.
Meanwhile Conor Murphy, the finance minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, said: “The cost of living crisis is causing hardship for families and businesses.
“I’ve been calling on Treasury to suspend VAT on energy bills temporarily to provide reprieve during the difficult winter period. It is time for Treasury to act now.”
The ministers from the three devolved nations also reiterated their calls for extra funding to respond to the Covid pandemic to be provided when needed and not just when additional assistance is provided in England.
Ms Evans said: “The Treasury must recognise the importance of fully supporting devolved nations to help protect our businesses and protect our populations.”
Mr Murphy, meanwhile, stated: “We have been calling on Treasury to reinstate the Self Employed Income Support Scheme and furlough scheme on a targeted basis where necessary.
“It is disappointing that Treasury is unwilling to provide support to workers and their families. We would ask Treasury to urgently reconsider this position.”
And Ms Forbes made clear: “It is not tenable for funding only to be triggered by public health decisions in England. A system is required that supports the decisions of each devolved administration.”
A HM Treasury spokesperson said: “The UK Government has worked closely with the devolved administrations throughout the pandemic and continues to do so, including via the meeting of the Finance Ministers Quadrilateral today.
“The UK Government’s £400 billion Covid support package has supported people, businesses and public services in all parts of the UK, and in December we have just made £860 million of additional funding available to the devolved administrations to help them respond to the challenges presented by Omicron.
“We would encourage the devolved administrations to use this funding to provide the urgent support needed across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“We also recognise that people are facing cost of living pressures, which is why we’re taking £4.2 billion of decisive action to help.”