I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. As a result of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, households in Wales have seen their energy bills increase, which is why the Government have provided support totalling £94 billion, or £3,300 per household, to help with higher bills.
A constituent of mine who is a mother and a carer for her disabled son wrote to me recently. She told me that she is watching every penny and is deeply worried about how she will afford energy in the coming winter. She is one of the nine in 10 families with a disabled child who the Family Fund says are struggling to afford simple household bills. What direct advice does the Secretary of State have for my constituent and thousands like her who are in a hopeless situation?
There are indeed many people suffering at the moment, and I feel very sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. The Government have supported households with the rising cost of living by maintaining the energy price guarantee at £2,500 from April to June 2023, saving households an additional £160. Over the winter, the Government were paying on average about half of people’s energy bills. For those living in households where someone has a disability, there has been an extra payment of £150.
The most recent statistics published by the Welsh Government show that almost a quarter of those in the private rented sector in Wales are living in fuel poverty, compared with only 13% of those who own their homes. Will the Secretary of State set out what additional support those who live in the private rented sector will get from the Government? The reality is that their rents and fuel bills are going up, and the Government seem to be sitting idle and doing nothing to support these people.
The Government are certainly not sitting idly around and not supporting people. The Government do not differentiate between people in private and people in rented accommodation; we have stipulated that those who are the least well off will get the most support. That is why we have ensured that pensions have gone up in line with inflation, the minimum wage has gone up in line with inflation, and those living on benefits have seen their benefits rise in line with inflation.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Government have extended the windfall tax and are charging very high levels of tax—indeed, about three times the usual level—on companies taking oil out of the North sea. It is extraordinary that those who call for a windfall tax on energy companies do not recognise that we are already levying it and do not want to support the Government in allowing more oil and gas to be exploited from the North sea, which will enable us to raise even more in taxation.
Tory Ministers seem to think that the energy crisis is all over. I am not sure when the Secretary of State last struggled to pay an energy bill, but bills are still almost double what they were before the crisis began, and the Tory Government have scrapped vital support. Does the Secretary of State agree that the way to get energy bills down for good is to back Labour’s policy to retrofit 19 million homes and reach 100% clean power by 2030?
I have no idea who would be paying for the hon. Gentleman’s proposals—no doubt they are among the many things that will be paid for using the same tax about half a dozen times. He will no doubt be pleased that today inflation is down yet again, and the Government are well on course for achieving their target of cutting inflation by half as well as growing the economy.
None the less, food inflation remains above 19%, and it hits the poorest hardest, with the Trussell Trust warning that the past year saw a record 185,000 food parcels provided in Wales. Meanwhile, supermarkets continue to make record-breaking profits—many speak of a greedflation crisis. European Governments have negotiated with supermarkets to cap food prices. Why will the Secretary of State’s Government not do that, too?
I have already mentioned some of the help and support that the Government have given to the least well-off. I remind the right hon. Lady that, in addition to pensions and benefits rising in line with inflation, there are payments of £900 to those on benefits, £300 to pensioners and £150 to those in households with disability. Quite frankly, if she is seriously worried about food inflation, she should be talking to her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government who are propping up the Welsh Labour Government about their ridiculous proposals to ban meal deals, which would make meals even more expensive for people in Wales.
It is a good job somebody is protecting Wales, because Tory Brexit has served Wales badly. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 have grabbed the Senedd’s powers, and paltry post-Brexit funding is robbing Wales of millions. Enough is enough. The House of Lords recently passed Lord Wigley’s Government of Wales (Devolved Powers) Bill to prevent any change to the Senedd’s powers without a two-thirds vote majority from Members of the Senedd. Will the Secretary of State support Plaid Cymru’s Bill and ensure time for debate, or is he happy to see the people of Wales lose the powers for which they have voted time and again?
Far from taking powers away from the Welsh Government, the Conservative Government have, on a number of occasions, actually increased powers to the Welsh Government. By leaving the European Union, we have repatriated powers from Brussels, where we were being governed by an unelectable elite, and brought them back to both Westminster and Cardiff. If the right hon. Lady wants to stop money being wasted, she should have a word with her colleagues in Plaid Cymru, who are propping up the Welsh Labour Government as they waste hundreds of millions of pounds in the Betsi Cadwaladr health service, hundreds of millions of pounds on an airport with no planes, and over £100 million on plans for a relief road that will never get built.