Boris Johnson’s government is on a “war footing” over the deepening cost of living crisis, the Cabinet Office minister has claimed – but insisted that no new support could be offered until the next prime minister is at No 10.
Kit Malthouse said he and other ministers were “thinking carefully about the various cards the prime minister can play in the autumn”.
There were no guarantees of further help, as inflation reached a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent and heaped more pressure on families struggling with soaring bills and food prices.
It comes as new analysis from Citizens Advice shows one in four Britons (24 per cent) won’t be able to afford to pay their energy bills in October – pushing 13 million into debt.
But Malthouse said the government could not take action this summer. “I can’t, I’m afraid make policy announcements now,” the senior Tory MP told BBC Breakfast. “That would be above my pay grade. But what I can do is put a new prime minister in good shape.”
The Cabinet Office minister added: “We are putting the government on war footing, if you like, so that a new prime minister in just a couple of weeks’ time now is able to make some quick decisions on where he or she wants to take the country and the economy.”
However, Tory leadership favourite Liz Truss is yet to commit to any additional direct payments to help the public with huge hikes in energy bills expected from October.
Rival Rishi Sunak – who has said he will commit around £5bn in additional payments to the most vulnerable – said it would be a “moral failure” not to offer more help in a scathing attack on Truss at last night’s hustings in Scotland.
The ex-chancellor said her plan to prioritise tax cuts and take green levies off bills would mean “millions of people are at the risk of being tipped into destitution”.
But Truss refused to commit to more support – and dismissed Labour’s plan to freeze energy price cap through planned increases in October and January as a “a six-month sticking plaster”.
Truss was also criticised for suggesting British workers were lazy, after a leaked audio recording revealed that she said British workers needed “more graft” and lacked “skill”.
Sajid Javid, a senior Truss backer, insisted that she had been talking about boosting productivity. “British workers are among the hardest-working in the world,” he told Sky News.
Responding to the latest inflation figures – which showed food prices shot up 12.7 per cent – chancellor Nadhim Zahawi pointed to the £37bn of support the government has committed to addressing rising living costs. “Getting inflation under control is my top priority,” he said.
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, said a price cap freeze would help keep inflation under control. “People are worried sick and while the Tories are busy fighting and ignoring the scale of this crisis.”
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition supporting a call by former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown for an emergency budget to tackle the energy and cost-of-living crisis.
Boris Johnson has been accused of treating his final weeks in office as “one big part” after he headed off to Greece for a week – his second holiday in a fortnight.
Mr Malthouse defended the prime minister. “He’s staying in touch with staff and being briefed by No 10, I would imagine,” he told Sky News when asked about Johnson’s latest holiday.