Christine Jardine – 2022 Speech on the Cost of Living Crisis

The speech made by Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.

It is both a privilege and a disappointment to speak in this debate on tackling the short and long-term cost of living increases, because we are tackling those issues as we are in a crisis on a scale that we have not seen in this country for decades. We are talking about inflation moving up into double figures towards the end of the year, interest rates going up, and a cost of living that takes us back to the 1970s and a difficult time for many of us and for our parents. So we are waiting for the Government to bring forward a paradigm-changing vision of what they are going to do about this crisis—a plan. Instead, all we got today was a lecture about how the Government understand the need for long-term growth and, even more pointlessly, a reminder of what the Labour Government may or may not have done 20 years ago. There was nothing about a plan for the people who are facing a crisis today. There was no empathy for those people and no understanding from the Chancellor of the difficulty they are facing.

There is nothing in the programme in the Queen’s Speech for the families and pensioners in my constituency and across the country who are struggling with the immediate impact of the cost of living crisis—not in the future or the long term, but now, today. I am talking about the rise in their food bills, in the price of clothes for themselves and for their children, in the cost of their petrol to get to and from work or to get their children to school. The frightening prospect, because it is that for many of them, is of a winter coping with ever-higher energy prices. We have the Chancellor’s promises about long-term growth, but unfortunately, we learned a long time ago that promises from this Government are not worth the air into which they are spoken. Pensioners do not have to be told that, because they were promised that the triple lock would continue and now they find that it has been abandoned for the moment, leaving them £500 a year worse off.

There have been too many broken promises, just as there have been too many missed opportunities to make a difference with insulation in our houses and just as there is too much dither and delay now on a windfall tax. The Chancellor has got himself into the situation where he says today that he is considering it. If he does not do it, why has he not done it? If he does now do it, why did he not do it sooner?

What about a cut on VAT to put money back into families’ pockets? Cutting it from 20% to 17% would make a huge difference to families up and down this country. Government Members will want to say, “It will cost how much?” Let me tell them that it will cost £19 billion. However, the Chancellor himself is in for a bit of a windfall, because the increase in prices means he will get £38 billion more than he expected from VAT. Money that families up and down the country who can ill afford it are spending today will go into the Exchequer, but rather than cut VAT and put that money back into the pockets of those families and of pensioners, what is the Chancellor going to do about it? That is what we want and need to know: what is the Chancellor going to do?

Time is running out for families up and down the country and it is running out for this Government. They need to listen to what people are saying. It was clear from the recent election results that people are not happy. They did not get the Government they thought they were getting. It is time that the Government listened, acted and recognised that the crisis is now, not somewhere down the line.