By Muvija M and William James
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain must pay for increased support to households in a way that does not deter investment, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay said on Thursday ahead of an expected announcement of new measures to cope with rising energy bills.
Facing intense political pressure to provide more support for billpayers coping with what opponents and campaigners have called a cost-of-living crisis, finance minister Rishi Sunak will give a statement to parliament setting out details of the government’s response.
“In terms of paying for that, as we look at the balance between how much is done through debt, and how much is done through revenue raising, we need to do that in a way that doesn’t deter investment,” Barclay told Sky News.
Sunak’s announcement is expected to include a 10 billion pound ($12.6 billion) package of support, an energy industry source said, funded in part by a windfall tax on oil and gas producers companies.
Barclay said the government had decided to act after an announcement by the energy regulator earlier this week that a cap on gas and electricity bills was set to rise by another 40% in October.
“What we do recognise … is the government needs to have targeted support, particularly for those most affected by those higher bills,” Barclay told the BBC.
Global gas prices soared last year when the reopening of world economies from pandemic lockdowns caused demand to return sharply and supply could not keep up. The war in Ukraine has pushed up prices further in 2022.
The government has previously said it is opposed to a windfall tax on energy suppliers because it would deter them from investing in new energy projects.
But that position has shifted as political pressure for action has mounted, with the highest inflation among G7 nations and rising bills pushing many household budgets to the limit.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also keen to move the conversation away from a damning report detailing a series of illegal lockdown parties at his Downing Street office.
The opposition Labour Party has campaigned for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to raise around 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion), with opinion polls showing public support for such a move.
Asked about a windfall tax, Barclay said he disagreed with the Labour proposal, but declined to give any further details of the government’s new plan, saying it was for Sunak to set out the package to parliament later.
Sunak is expected to speak around 1115 GMT.
Inflation reached a 40-year peak of 9% in April and is projected to rise further, while government forecasts last month showed living standards were set to see their biggest fall since records began in the late 1950s.
In February, the government announced a 9 billion pound support package, including a targeted tax rebate worth 150 pounds per year for 80% of households in England and a 200 pound discount on electricity bills, repayable over five years.
Media reports said that discount could be increased in Sunak’s package, and the need to repay it dropped.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) economic think tank said any support needed to be aimed at the poorest households, warning that a universal giveaway, including for those who did not need the extra cash, could fuel inflation.
“We do need to be careful,” IFS director Paul Johnson told BBC radio. “Putting … tens of billions into the economy at a time of high inflation could stoke additional demand and make the inflation much more permanent.”
($1 = 0.7963 pounds)