Richmond Park News: 23 September 2022
RESPONDING TO THE NEW BUDGET
Today, as Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, I responded to the Chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’. I am very concerned about the extremely high level of borrowing required to fund the tax cuts that the Chancellor proposes, currently estimated at £45 billion. The Liberal Democrats have been calling for an extension to the windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help pay for the energy bill measures announced for households and businesses, which would mitigate against some of the borrowing required to fund these measures. It is extremely concerning that the Government has refused to publish the Office of Budgetary Responsibility forecast for the announcement today; there is a clear lack of evidence supporting the Chancellor’s claims that his proposals will lead to significant economic growth, in addition to a wider lack of scrutiny on these proposals.
In my speech, I chose to tackle the Chancellor directly on how his budget will help ordinary families access the public services on which we all rely. I have received significant correspondence from constituents about the struggles they face to get a GP appointment, find school places for their children or see a dentist. The latter issue was highlighted by data revealed by the Liberal Democrats this week which showed that only 3/10 adults in Richmond Park had seen an NHS dentist in the past 2 years as of 2021. This was down from nearly 6/10 in 2019. I was therefore disappointed that the Chancellor refused to directly address my question, choosing to revert back to his ideological position that growth at the top of the economy will trickle down to the rest of society. Should you wish to view my question in the House, you can do so here.
ENERGY SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES AND OTHER NON-DOMESTIC CONSUMERS
On Wednesday, the Government released further details about the support available to help businesses with their energy costs via the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. This support will also be made available to other non-domestic consumers such as charities and public sector organisations such as schools and hospitals. More detail is available here.
I have spoken to many struggling small businesses over the last 3 months who expressed grave concern for their future viability in light of soaring energy costs, and I am very pleased that the Government has finally taken action. However, the Government has no plan beyond the six months that the support is available for, which leaves businesses unable to invest or plan for the future. The Liberal Democrats are calling for support for high streets and public services to be in place for at least the next year, and to include measures to improve energy efficiency and cut bills in the long term.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents whose homes are connected to heat networks (also called communal heating systems.) In such networks, the managing organisation has a commercial energy contract with the supplier, rather than each individual household having their own contract.
Households on heat networks are not protected by the energy price cap, and are not eligible for the support targeted at standard domestic energy contracts. The Government promised those on heat networks would receive support 'equivalent' to other domestic consumers, but yesterday's announcement revealed that they will actually receive support second-hand through suppliers. Managing organisations will be eligible for the Energy Bill Relief Scheme designed for businesses. That means a six month price freeze, rather than the two year guarantee other households will receive.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy alongside my colleague Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham, to call for immediate clarification and for homes connected to heat networks to receive support that is truly equivalent to other households. You can read our letter here.
REPAYMENT OF UNIVERSAL CREDIT CLAIMS
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Government relaxed verification checks for Universal Credit (UC) claims. Delayed checks are now being carried out and as a result a number of UC claims made at the start of the pandemic have recently failed, resulting in claims being closed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is seeking repayment of the UC claimed, which is placing an undue burden on claimants. I have heard multiple first-hand accounts of UC debt repayments driving use of foodbanks, destitution and homelessness.