Sunderland shoppers plead with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for help ahead of Autumn Statement budget update
Ahead of the Autumn Budget, Sunderland families have pleaded with the Chancellor for financial support to cope with the cost of living crisis and urged him to protect vital public services such as education and the NHS.
While the chancellor will tomorrow (Thursday, November 17) announce details of the Government’s financial plan to rectify the country’s ailing economy, he has already confirmed this is likely to involve increased taxes and cuts to public spending.
Speaking to the BBC earlier this week Jeremy Hunt said: “We are going to see everyone paying more tax and we are going to see spending cuts.
"But we are a compassionate country so we will introduce a plan that will see us through the very choppy waters we are in economically, but we will make sure we protect the most vulnerable and in particular deal with the single biggest worry for people on low incomes which is the rising cost of their weekly shop and energy prices.”
How this manifests itself will be revealed tomorrow, but with inflation rising to a 41-year high, at 11.1%, the clear message from shoppers at the Galleries, in Washington, was that the “ordinary working person can’t absorb any further costs”.
Robert Douglas, 50, who lives in Gateshead and works for Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s really tough for people at the moment with the cost of petrol, food and energy which is impacting on the decisions we make.
"We live in a council house and we were going to buy it, but the recent hike in interest rates means we can no longer afford to.
"We can’t absorb any further tax rises, the budget should target taxing the big energy companies and the billions of profit they have made.
"This money can then be used to support people with their gas and electric bills.
"I have no confidence the budget will help ordinary working people, in fact I think it’s more likely to be a hindrance.”
Software developer Gary Close, 53, added: “Increased taxation is inevitable but it all depends on how much it’s going to be, particularly with the cost of living crisis at the moment.
“There’s also always the fear that if companies have to make cuts to balance the books then people could lose their jobs.”
Two key areas of concern is the potential for an increase in council tax and whether the Government continues to adhere to its commitment to the triple lock – ensuring that pensions and benefits keep pace with inflation.
Retired printer Colin Cummings, 70, from Washington Village, said: “I’m concerned with what will be announced in the budget as things are difficult for people at the moment and the Government really need to listen the public and hear their concerns.
"The cost of living has effected what we do. We are not putting our heating on as much and have changed our shopping habits to shop around for the best deals.
"I’ve read that there may be an increase in council tax. Myself and my wife are pensioners and this will again mean more money going out. The price of everything is going up and so I really hope they keep to their triple lock commitment.”
Fears are also growing for the £2,500 household cap on energy bills, which former Prime Minister Liz Truss had pledged to continue for the next two years.
However, reports have suggested the current scheme could be ditched in April and replaced with a “more targeted approach”.
Colin’s wife Elizabeth, a retired finance worker, 68, said: “I think it would logistically be very difficult to decide who gets the payment and who doesn’t.
"I think the energy cap should remain for everyone and there should be a windfall tax on the big oil and gas companies to help pay for it.”
Brian Jeacock, 74, who also lives in Washington Village, feels the Government needs to support those struggling to cope with escalating prices.
Retired garden centre manager Brian said: “The price of milk, cheese, bread, pasta – all the things which form the basis of our diet – have all gone up, not just luxury items.
"I tend to buy the same things each week and so I’ve really noticed an impact on my budget and so I imagine it must be a real struggle for single parents on low incomes.
"Some people are in a dire situation and can’t absorb anymore.”
With public services and local councils already financially stretched to the limit, those people who spoke with the Echo questioned where savings could be made and urged the chancellor to protect key sectors.
Brian added: “Education is already underfunded and we are not investing in our next generation’s future and so I feel this should be ring fenced from cuts, the same with the NHS – there also needs to be an incentive for people to go into both these areas.”
Gary added: “Any further cuts to the NHS would be worrying if it means delays to operations and a shortage of staff.”
George Tones, a former statistician at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), called for a more targeted approach to help fill the country’s “fiscal black hole”.
George, 68, said: “Increased taxation is inevitable, but it has got to be done fairly.
"I think the Prime Minister and Chancellor have thankless task and I would not like to be in their shoes.
"I’m always concerned about what comes out in the budget, but I think this is going to be a budget the likes of which we have not seen since the 1970s.”