Cabinet ministers are split over suggestions to ease the cost of living crisis at no cost to the government, which include calls to scrap green levies and a plan to cut MOT test intervals from one to two years .
Chancellor Rishi Sunak made it clear to ministers at a brainstorming session that there was no money available to fund programs to help struggling households.
There were clashes around the table when Police Minister Kit Malthouse called for tax cuts to offset the damage caused by rising prices, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng resisted to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s demands to scrap levies which add £150 a year to the average energy bill. .
As the Tories take a beating ahead of local elections due to the impact of soaring inflation, Boris Johnson has called on every minister to come up with ideas to help put money back in the purses and voters’ wallets.
He would be particularly keen to cut the cost of childcare, where prices have risen by a third over the past decade, from around £102 in 2012 to £137 now for an average weekly childcare place part-time for a child under two years of age.
It is understood that the ideas presented at the meeting included a proposal first presented last fall, but so far not adopted, to increase the maximum number of children that can be cared for by each carer in a nursery.
Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has reportedly proposed increasing the time between MOT technical checks from one to two years, cutting their cost in half.
Another idea being explored is a reduction in tariffs on imports of foodstuffs that cannot be grown in the UK, such as rice.
The most promising ideas will be selected for possible implementation at a meeting “in the coming weeks”, which will be chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by his deputy, Dominic Raab, Mr Sunak, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay.
But the mooted cost-of-living package will not be ready in time to feature in the Queen’s Speech on May 10, when Mr Johnson sets out his legislative plans for the year ahead.
Speaking to his Cabinet, Mr Johnson admitted Britons faced ‘real pressure’ but blamed external factors such as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘crazy malice’ in Ukraine and recent lockdowns linked to Covid in China.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said Britain needed ‘an emergency budget, not a cabinet meeting’.
“The cost of living crisis has been staring us in the face for six months now, and it’s a real problem for people struggling with their bills – and this morning’s cabinet meeting won’t change that,” said- he declared.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman declined to discuss the individual proposals, telling reporters only that it was ‘necessary to balance the amount of regulation and bureaucracy so that it is sufficient to ensure safety protection public but does not impose an undue burden on the public”.
But the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said that ‘tinkering’ with the adult-to-child ratio – which varies by age, from 1:3 for under-twos to at least 1:8 for over-threes – was “short-sighted” and would not achieve the desired result.
NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, “We risk putting additional pressure on an overstretched workforce while undermining efforts to give children the best start in life.”
After years of government underfunding for childcare places, around 95% of nurseries say they are not covering their costs and 85% are operating at a loss or just breaking even, she said.
“We want to see a government committed to improving opportunities for all children by investing in their early years, where we know it has the greatest impact on their life chances,” Ms Tanuku said. “Instead, we seem to be talking about a race to the bottom that won’t help children or families, but will worsen the workforce crisis we have in the early years.”
Labor education spokeswoman Bridget Phillipson said the government had made high-quality childcare “increasingly unavailable and unaffordable”.
“Now the government’s solution is to reduce quality without making a difference to availability,” she said. “Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan would invest in the early years for children receiving free school meals and improve access to before and after school clubs.
‘The Chancellor has failed to keep families safe. The Conservative Government must draw up an emergency budget to tackle the cost of living crisis and support Labour’s call to put money back in their pockets workers.
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said Mr Johnson had failed to react to the “mind-blowing” rise in childcare costs.
She added: ‘Boris Johnson’s new plan is not to tackle this problem head-on, but rather to take shortcuts and put our children at risk. Their safety should be our number one priority, not reduced to a cost-cutting measure.
“The government must tackle the crippling costs of childcare so that families get the support they need and can afford to return to work.”
Jack Couzens, road policy officer at the AA, said The Independent Mr Shapps’ idea for less frequent MOT testing may not prove popular with drivers, after a poll for the motoring organization found significant support for the existing one-year interval.
With the price of an MOT test capped at £54.85 and some providers offering them at a significantly lower price, drivers are unlikely to feel any significant financial increase from the proposition, he stressed.
And he said: “In our poll, people supported the annual MOTs on the basis that they ensure people keep their cars safe on the roads. I think people would rather feel relief at the gas pump than be helped with other car-related costs.
“Waiting any longer to MOT your car runs the risk that problems that would have been detected will have another 12 months to worsen and potentially result in higher costs on the next test or difficulties while driving.
Following their clash in the cabinet room, Mr Kwarteng took to Mr Rees-Mogg on Twitter, posting a graph showing new solar and wind power are now four times cheaper than gas generation UK.
“The more clean and cheap electricity we generate at home, the less exposure we will have to high gasoline prices,” he said.
A source close to Mr Kwarteng declined to divulge details of the cabinet discussion, but said: ‘I don’t think anyone will be surprised that Kwasi has championed cheap, clean electricity generation in the UK instead. than burning foreign gas.
“Green energy is the cure for high prices, not the cause.”