Reports that some pensioners are riding buses to keep warm and limiting themselves to one meal a day as energy prices soar are “utterly shameful”, a shadow minister has said.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the government of being so “out of touch” with the cost of living crisis that some pensioners are faced with “no choice but to sit on the bus all day to avoid racking up heating bills or are left shivering in blankets and only eating one meal a day”.
His comments come after Boris Johnson responded to the reports by taking credit for introducing free travel for pensioners during his time as London mayor, and acknowledged that there was more that could be done to help relieve the rising cost of living pressure on households – but insisted the government is doing “everything we can”.
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Govt doing ‘everything we can’
Many people in Britain are facing an increase in energy bills, council tax and the effects of a National Insurance tax rise – as well as inflation hitting a 30-year-high of 7% last month.
Interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme, the PM was told of one 77-year-old pensioner called Elsie who has seen her energy bill soar so high that she has cut down to eating just one meal a day and spends the day travelling on the bus with her free pass to keep warm.
Asked what other sacrifices vulnerable people such as Elsie could possibly make, the prime minister replied: “The 24-hour freedom bus pass was actually something that I actually introduced.”
Mr Johnson said there are “plenty of things more that we are doing”, adding: “What we want to do is make sure that we have people who are in particular hardship looked after by their councils, so we are putting much more money into local councils.
“We have the particular payments to help elderly people in particular with the cost of heating.”
PM ‘out of touch’
But Labour’s Mr Ashworth criticised Mr Johnson’s answer.
“It is utterly shameful that pensioners have no choice but to sit on the bus all day to avoid racking up heating bills at home, or are left shivering in blankets and only eating one meal a day,” the shadow work and pensions secretary said in a statement.
“For Boris Johnson to respond by boasting about the London bus pass reveals just how out of touch this narcissistic prime minister is.
“The simple truth is Boris Johnson has just imposed the biggest real terms cut to the pension in 50 years and charities like Age UK are warning this will be a year of hell for Britain’s retirees.”
He added a windfall tax would “provide real help to families facing the Conservatives’ cost of living crisis”.
PM warns against windfall tax
But the PM warned that a windfall tax on energy firms would deter investment.
“If you put a windfall tax on the energy companies, what that means is that you discourage them from making the investments that we want to see that will, in the end, keep energy prices lower for everybody,” he said.
It came as BP announced soaring underlying profits despite a hit from pulling out of its Russian business.
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The prime minister also warned that increasing state support beyond its current levels could drive inflation even higher.
The government has set out a £9 billion package of loans to cut energy bills and council tax rebates but is facing growing calls to go further as households across the UK start to feel the pinch of rising living costs.
“I accept that those contributions from the taxpayer – because that’s what it is, taxpayers’ money – isn’t going to be enough immediately to cover everybody’s costs,” he told Good Morning Britain.
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‘More that we can do’
The PM continued: “There is more that we can do. But the crucial thing is to make sure we deal with the prices over the medium and long term.”
Last week, Downing Street announced the PM will chair a committee with the aim of tackling the cost of living crisis “in the next couple of weeks”.
A future announcement on childcare aimed at easing the financial burden faced by many families was also hinted by Number 10.
According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week, almost nine out of 10 adults say they have seen a rise in their cost of living – compared to 62% in November last year.
Meanwhile, supermarket groups Asda and Morrisons announced efforts to help struggling shoppers during the cost of living crisis.