Energy crisis UK: Boris Johnson defends plan to cut Universal Credit despite warning over gas price rise

The Prime Minister insisted the Government’s approach was “the best way forward”

Boris Johnson has defended the decision to go-ahead with planned benefits cuts despite a Cabinet minister warning families could face a “difficult winter” with rising energy bills.

The Prime Minister insisted the Government’s approach was “the best way forward”.

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However, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the combination of rising gas prices and the looming £20 a week cut to Universal Credit was a “difficult situation” and that he had spoken to Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the pressures households face.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • The Prime Minister said he would take “direct steps” to ensure high gas prices did not lead to empty supermarket shelves. A deal has been struck with a US firm to avoid shortages in carbon dioxide - which is vital in the food trade.
  • Mr Johnson told Sky News “Christmas is on” following concerns within the poultry industry about turkey supplies.
  • Ministers are grappling with a surge in global gas prices which has left energy companies struggling.
  • Some 4.4 million households on Universal Credit are poised to see their energy bills rise significantly in October – the same month the £20-a-week uplift to the benefits payment ends, the Resolution Foundation think tank has calculated.
  • The energy price cap is set to rise by £139 a year (12%) to £1,277 for a typical gas and electricity customer from October 1 while the Government’s uplift in Universal Credit, intended as a temporary measure during the coronavirus pandemic, ends on October 6.

What’s been said

Mr Johnson was challenged over the Universal Credit cut during a BBC interview in the United States, where he is meeting president Joe Biden.

Asked if the decision to reduce the benefit was final, he said: “We think that the best thing we can do is help people into high-wage, high-skilled jobs.

“That is what is happening, unemployment is falling very rapidly, jobs are being created and wages are rising, and rather than raising people’s taxes to put more money into benefits we want to see companies paying their workers more.”

Pushed on the issue of Universal Credit, Mr Kwarteng told the BBC: “It’s a difficult situation, it could be a very difficult winter.

“That’s why, as energy minister, I’m very focused on helping people that are fuel poor.

“Universal Credit, you will know, is an issue for the Chancellor and the Work and Pensions Secretary, I’m speaking to them a great deal about it.”

Background

The rise in energy costs has threatened to disrupt the food supply chain because of a shortage of CO2 produced as a by-product in fertiliser plants.

Mr Kwarteng has now struck a deal with fertiliser firm CF Industries, which had suspended operations because of the high cost of energy.

CO2 is used to stun animals prior to slaughter and also forms part of the protective packaging used to keep foods fresh.

Mr Johnson acknowledged the Government had taken “direct steps” to safeguard CO2 supplies, although so far there is little detail of the deal.

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