The speech made by Carla Lockhart, the DUP MP for Upper Bann, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.
Across the House, we are all acutely aware of the challenges faced by our constituents. The groceries budget puts less in the supermarket basket than it did a year ago; the electricity or gas top-up card does not last as long as it did a year ago; and £20 of diesel does not take a car as far as it did a year ago. Those additional household cost pressures are being felt at a time when many people have just experienced real-terms cuts to their income and/or benefits. Furthermore, not that long ago, the £20 uplift to universal credit was withdrawn by the Government, despite appeals from Opposition Members, and from charities across the length and breadth of the UK.
For the squeezed middle, childcare costs continue to increase and mortgage costs face steep rises. The reality for so many is that wages are failing to keep up with the increase in the cost of living. The national insurance hike and the cumulative impact of all those pressures will result in households’ disposable income shrinking. The bite is being felt.
It ought to be of great concern to the Government that the OBR has warned that UK residents face the biggest living standards drop on record. That is why it is deeply disappointing and distressing for those feeling the squeeze that although we were told that the Government’s priority is to help
“ease the cost of living for families”,
in reality, nothing is being done to deliver on that right now. The Government announced 38 Bills last week. Many of them have great merit, yet there was nothing to address the immediate pressures facing households and families across the United Kingdom. A windfall tax on energy companies enjoying soaring profits was absent. The opportunity to cut taxes or reverse the inexplicable national insurance rise was missed. The Government repeatedly tell us that they are a party of low taxes. Surely now is the time to prove it.
For those in Northern Ireland, the opportunity to give a clear legislative commitment to addressing the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol was also absent. The protocol exacerbates the cost of living crisis in Northern Ireland. The cost of bringing goods into Northern Ireland has increased by around 27%, according to our haulage industry. That cost is being passed on to businesses and consumers. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself has argued that the protocol is restricting his ability to help our post-covid recovery and holding back economic growth. He is right.
As the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) outlined so eloquently, the new UK-wide VAT cut on renewable energy products cannot be implemented in Northern Ireland because of the terms of the protocol. That is a wholly unacceptable situation that no Prime Minister or Government of this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can preside over. The Prime Minister knows what he must do. Today’s statement from the Foreign Secretary is welcome, but we must see action. I regret that thus far the Chancellor has been an absent Chancellor when it comes to visiting Northern Ireland. I again extend an invitation to him to come to Northern Ireland and hear from my constituents and businesses who are feeling the squeeze.
In conclusion, the long-term objectives identified by the Government—higher wages, more highly skilled jobs and a move towards our own supply of cheaper and cleaner energy—are very welcome, but families cannot wait for those objectives to become reality. For many, the pressure is being felt acutely now. They need action now.