One of Britain’s biggest retailers has called for a major boost in welfare for the poorest as pressure mounts on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to act on the cost of living crisis.
Stuart Rose, chairman of Asda and a Tory peer, effectively backed the reinstatement of a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic to help those on low incomes. He said some were seeing “shocking” increases in their bills and warned the pressures were likely to persist well into 2024.
“We have a national economic emergency and we all need to pull ourselves together and fix the problem,” he told the Observer. “Doing nothing is not an option. We must act and act quickly. Even if things improve next year, prices will continue to rise as inflation falls. The people we need to worry about are those with lower incomes. They are really struggling. »
Rose is the latest business and conservative figure to urge immediate action. Last week, Tesco chairman John Allan appealed for support, saying there was now a ‘damning case’ for a windfall tax on energy companies to help those hurting the most from the crisis of the cost of living. Rose said he was “nervous about a windfall tax” and thought direct, targeted help for low-wage earners was a better approach.
“I think it has to be done through welfare – it has to be carefully targeted,” he said. “It has to be an intervention that is going to make a meaningful difference for people. I don’t know how low-wage people and a few kids are going to fare this year. If you have a disease, you provide medicine until you are cured, then you take it away. Just explain it well. People will understand. I would have a very, very targeted intervention that makes a significant difference to people – the equivalent of £1,000 a year.
” It’s shocking. It’s been going on for months, maybe longer. It’s shocking that we barely seemed to see it coming.
“The second thing to say is that this is not going to be temporary. It is going to have an ongoing effect on the economy and therefore on consumers until 2024. This is a big deal.
His intervention comes after Sunak said an old computer system used by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) prevented him from increasing benefits further in the spring statement. He admitted citing technical issues ‘sounds like an excuse’, but was told there could only be a once-a-year increase for people on certain benefits.
Several conservatives pushed for action. Boris Johnson refused to rule out the introduction of a windfall tax, while Sunak suggested it could be an option if energy companies fail to invest in the UK. However, many MPs want tax cuts brought forward or helped through the benefit system. The government has increased benefits by 3% while inflation is at 7% and is expected to reach 10% by the end of the year.
Rose, a leading figure in the Remain campaign ahead of the EU referendum, lamented that he felt “you’re not allowed” to quote Brexit’s impact on the cost of living crisis. “This is the greatest economic disaster to ever befall this country, and it will have a continuing negative effect for some time to come.
“He was conveniently camouflaged and ignored due to Covid. It was the best excuse the government had ever had to cover up all the ill effects of Brexit. Transport, insurance, freight, administration and labor costs have increased. This created the problem we have with Northern Ireland. Trade with Europe has shrunk more than any new trade we got from foreign incursions, where people were rushing around the world saying, “We have another trade deal.” We can’t go back, but my God, at some point, someone has to be honest and have a decent track record. Nobody wants to be considered a “Remoaner”, but it’s actually shocking. If it wasn’t so shocking, it would be comical.
He said he believed a politician would emerge in the next generation, ready to champion a closer relationship with Europe again: “There is a young man or woman, probably already there, who will stand on an orange box in 10 or 15 years”. time, saying, ‘I have this vision.’ I think we’ll be back in Europe – with a kind of different structure, but closer to the Europeans in one way or another commercially – by the mid-2030s. That’s my prediction .