Gordon Brown: Any caring chancellor would do more about poverty

Gordon Brown has accused Rishi Sunak of providing a “blank page instead of action” to tackle poverty amid the spiralling cost-of-living crisis.

Experts have warned Sunak's decision not to increase benefits in line with inflation in his Spring Statement is a catastrophe for the most vulnerable households, and will send 1.3 million Brits into absolute poverty in 2022-2023.

The former Labour chancellor and prime minister issued a plea to Sunak on Friday to do more to help Brits with the soaring cost of living.

"The problem is going to get worse and you can't have children, no parent wants children, growing up without beds, without warmth, without hot food - something has got to be done about this," Brown told BBC Breakfast.

Read more: Why working people lose out from Rishi Sunak’s spring statement: ‘It’s indefensible’

Energy bills are set to rise 54% next month, lumping households with an average yearly bill of £1,971 - and inflation hit 6.4% in 12 months up to February 2022.

"There was a blank page in his budget statement this week and it missed out millions of people who are facing real hardship," Brown said.

He added: "Any caring and compassionate chancellor would do something about this level of poverty, yet this week there was a blank page instead of action."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak react at a statement on the economic update session, at the House of Commons in London, Britain March 23, 2022. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.
Former chancellor and former prime minister Gordon Brown said Rishi Sunak's Spring Statment provided a 'blank page instead instead of action". (Reuters)

Sunak has defended the measures he announced in his statement which include:

- 5p off fuel duty for 12 months

- pushing forward with National Insurance contribution (NICs) hikes but increasing the threshold by £3,000

- knocking 1p off income tax by 2024

- an extra £500m for the Household Support Fund.

"I’m anxious on [the country's] behalf - and I know that it’s the number one concern that people have right now," Sunak told Sky News on Thursday.

“Families are struggling with the rising cost of lots of things - and that’s why, in the Spring Statement, I wanted to make sure that we demonstrated we were on people’s side.

"And we announced the tax plan that will deliver the biggest net cut taxes, net cut to personal taxes in two years, in quarter of a century taken together.”

Read more: Rishi Sunak warned mini-budget is not enough to stop 'needless deaths'

He added: “Where we can make a difference, we will, and I’m confident that the plan yesterday will do that.”

It is not just Brown that is calling for more action; the chancellor has been heavily criticised by a growing number of experts over his mini-budget.

Presenting the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) analysis, director Paul Johnson warned that not increasing benefits in line with current inflation will leave the most vulnerable Brits in financial turmoil.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak attends a statement on the economic update session, at the House of Commons in London, Britain March 23, 2022. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.
Rishi Sunak said he is "anxious" on the public's behalf over the cost-of-living crisis. (Reuters)

“While benefit levels will catch up with inflation next year, that will be of little comfort to those budgeting week to week or to those who are unemployed this year but not next year,” he said. “It is hard to understand the lack of action on this front.”

Johnson also called Sunak an "illusionist", criticising his claims of being a low tax chancellor when in reality taxes are set to hit their highest levels since Clement Attlee in the 1950s.

The Resolution Foundation warned support the offered by Rishi Sunak is “poorly targeted” - accusing him of deciding to "prioritise rebuilding his tax-cutting credentials over supporting the low-to-middle income households who will be hardest hit from the surging cost of living".

Read more: 'Woefully out of touch': The group of people ignored by Rishi Sunak’s spring statement

Greg Thwaites, who works for the organisation, told BBC Breakfast on Friday: “It’s hard to overstate the cost-of-living crisis that this country faces.

"We’ve got the biggest fall in living standards on record in over 60 years… and the highest inflation rate in 30 years.”

On Wednesday, the OBR said the drop in living standards is so severe that for most Brits it will not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024-25.

Watch: Spring Statement: Key takeaways from Rishi Sunak's speech