Many firms have been paying their staff too little for years, Boris Johnson said yesterday, as he suggested rising wages could plug the gap left by a controversial Universal Credit cut.
The Prime Minister also said the Government would press ahead next month with plans to scrap the £20-a-week uplift in universal credit, which was introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic.
He said he had ‘every sympathy’ with families who are ‘finding it tough’. But he warned that maintaining the extra payment would require a tax rise equal to more than 1p on the basic rate of income tax.
Last night, it emerged that ministers are considering softening the blow from the universal credit cut by allowing claimants to keep more money as they earn, it emerged yesterday.
The Treasury is discussing cutting the taper rate – the amount of benefit withdrawn for every pound someone earns – from 63p to 60p, according to the Daily Mirror.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey made the proposal in her submission to the Government’s spending review.
Mr Johnson told reporters while travelling in the United States: ‘I have every sympathy for people who are finding it tough, I really really do – but we have to recognise that in order to maintain the Covid uplift you’ve got to find another five to £6billion in tax. That has got to come out of some people’s pockets.’
Mr Johnson said many firms had paid their staff too little for years – and suggested that rising wages seen in recent months could help plug the gap for some workers on low incomes.
He added: ‘Wages are now rising faster than they have been for a long time, and the philosophy of this government is to try to deliver a high-wage, high-skill economy in which we invest in people, we invest in capital, we encourage businesses to put their profits back into people, back into the capital of the business, in order to drive productivity gain.
‘If you look at the UK since 2008, you look at our companies, they’ve been paying very low wages and they’ve been not investing, and productivity has fallen.’
The planned cut in Universal Credit has sparked opposition across the political spectrum, with some senior Tories, including former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, joining Labour calls for it to be kept in place.
Campaigners warn it could plunge tens of thousands of low income families into poverty at a time when the cost of living is rising fast.
But Mr Johnson said the ‘best solution’ was to ‘continue to invest in people’s skills, to make sure that they are getting the type of jobs that reward their hard work – and you’re starting to see that, you’re starting to see wages go up’.
He declined to say whether he could live on the £118-a-week minimum that Universal Credit guarantees to couples.
Yesterday, the ex-Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson added her voice to calls for the Government to keep the £20-a-week uplift. She told ITV it is ‘the wrong thing to do for people on low incomes’.
The row came amid calls for the Government to increase winter fuel payments and the warm home discount to help pensioners.
But Tory former minister Steve Baker urged ministers to prioritise universal credit. He said: ‘The problem with the winter fuel allowance is we end up giving money to people who don’t need it.’
Inflation could hit 4% in months, warns the Bank
By Lucy White, City Correspondent for the Daily Mail
The Bank of England issued a downbeat warning over rising living costs yesterday, saying that inflation could surge above 4 per cent by the end of the year.
In a gloomy update yesterday, the Bank hinted at the threat of interest rate rises in the future, warning that cost pressures may prove ‘more persistent’ than first thought.
Yet, despite the concerns, members of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously to hold interest rates at their historic low of 0.1 per cent.
They worried that any move to raise rates too soon could put the brakes on the UK’s post-Covid economic recovery.
The Bank has now cut its expectations for growth in the third quarter of the year by around 1 per cent, leaving the economy at the end of September still around 2.5 per cent smaller than before the pandemic. However, it said recent price rises had ‘strengthened [the] case’ for ‘modest tightening of monetary policy’ over the next few years – which would mean an increase in rates.
The more pessimistic outlook will be a disappointment for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was relying on a rapid bounce back from Covid to help shore up the Treasury’s finances.
It is now looking increasingly unlikely that the economy will return to its pre-Covid size by the end of this year, as the Bank had initially predicted.
Fears that the recovery is slowing mean that the Bank has been reluctant to start reversing its massive stimulus programme, despite worries that this could be adding to inflation.
As well as slashing interest rates last year, the Bank also re-started its £895billion money-printing programme to inject more cash into the economy.
But Kevin Brown, at investments organisation Scottish Friendly, accused the Bank of ‘fiddling’ with stagflation – where the economy stagnates but the cost of living soars.
He added: ‘The Bank’s latest rate announcement [fails] to account for the real situation on the ground, where people are experiencing rocketing prices on a range of core needs.
‘With prices soaring… people are going to batten down the spending hatches and this is going to kill off the recovery.’Internet Explorer Channel Network