Many constituents have contacted me with their concerns about how their shopping bills, energy and fuel costs are rising, and they are worried about what is to come. I have been working to ensure that they are aware of all the support available and ensure they are accessing it, but understandably, these are worrying times for many.
To help support people through this period, we have announced an extra £15 billion of support to help people with rising costs, and our support package is now worth a total of £37 billion. I have been representing local views, ideas and experiences of local residents to both the Prime Minister and Chancellor in recent weeks, and I was strongly in favour of introducing this package of support.
There have been plenty of figures and statistics circulated in the media in recent days and weeks, so I thought it may be helpful if I outline some of the most important practical steps we are taking to support people with rising costs.
Firstly, the £200 energy rebate will become a £400 cash grant, delivered as a discount from energy bills over six months from October. Energy companies will automatically apply this discount, and it will not need to be repaid. Circumstances have changed significantly since the announcement of the rebate, and we have always been clear as a Government that we will respond to global pressures pragmatically and adapt our support as needed.
We are also introducing a £650 cost of living payment for every household on means-tested benefits. This means over 8 million of the most vulnerable households (around one-third of all in the UK) will be directly sent a one-off cash payment of £650, paid out from the Department of Work and Pensions in two separate instalments, with the first due from July and the second in the Autumn. Payments from HMRC for those on Tax Credits will follow one month later.
There will also be a £300 pensioner cost of living payment for every pensioner household in receipt of Winter Fuel Payment. Around 8 million pensioner households already receive Winter Fuel Payments, and we will send all existing recipients an additional one-off £300 cash payment, due to be paid out automatically in November/December.
For those in receipt of disability benefits, there will be an additional £150 disability cost of living payment. This will be paid by the DWP in September to those receiving Personal Independence Payments, Disability Living Allowance, and Attendance Allowance. This will help to pay for the higher costs often faced by those who require special equipment in their households.
Having previously doubled support from £500 million to £1 billion through the Household Support Fund, we will now provide an additional £500 million to this fund from October. Wiltshire Council will be responsible for allocating this funding; please do put anyone who would like an eligibility check in touch with me and I can help them with this.
These targeted measures come in addition to our existing package of support, which includes the £150 council tax rebate, discretionary funding for those who may not be eligible for the main rebate, and bringing National Insurance in line with income tax, giving 70% of people a £330 tax cut.
For those on Universal Credit, we have already reduced the taper rate, and increased work allowances by £500 per annum from late 2021. This is effectively a tax cut for the lowest paid in society, meaning that 1.7 million households nationally will keep around an average of £1000 extra each year.
I am hopeful that this package of support will help people with rising costs in the short term. Whilst we cannot single-handedly change the impact of global inflation and market pressures with a package of support alone, I hope that the measures which I have described above will offer some reassurance during what I know are incredibly difficult and stressful times.
In the longer term, I believe the best way we can support people is through employment, skills and opportunities, and by ensuring that the economy is able to thrive. I strongly supported our decision, therefore, to increase the National Living Wage by 6.6 percent from £8.91 to £9.50 from April of this year.
Part of my Ministerial role includes responsibility for ensuring that young people are set up in life with the right training and opportunities to find high-skilled, well-paid, employment after leaving education. Whilst this focus may not help struggling families in the immediate, we are helping to create the foundations for a skilled and highly paid society in the years ahead.
Campaigns like Way to Work, for example, are designed to help fill record numbers of vacancies, supporting job-ready people into the labour market and helping them progress into a career. There is a dedicated Government website (https://jobhelp.campaign.gov.uk/) which provides tailored advice, support and information on current vacancies.
If you know of anyone who needs more immediate support in the short-term or in a crisis situation, Wiltshire Council operate a Local Welfare Provision scheme, which can provide funds for essential costs like food and energy. You can find out more about how to apply to this scheme online: https://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/benefits-help-crisis, or by calling 0300 456 0110.
Citizens Advice Wiltshire can also provide help and support locally for those who are struggling: https://www.citizensadvicewiltshire.org.uk/
If you would like to speak to me regarding the cost of living, I hold regular surgeries across the constituency, so please do feel free to get in touch to arrange an appointment, I would be more than happy to meet you.