Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has told Sky News that nobody should be cut off this winter because they can’t pay their energy bills.
In an exclusive interview with Kay Burley, he accused Russia of using energy to divide Western countries, but he insisted the UK must continue to support Ukraine.
Mr Zahawi promised there would be additional help for struggling families. However, I have stuck to the Downing Street line that it will be up to the new prime minister – due to be named on Monday – to decide what shape it takes.
The chancellor’s comments come as the Resolution Foundation warns British households are on course for the deepest living standards squeeze in a century, with real household disposable income expected to fall by 10% this year and next.
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Mr Zahawi was speaking to Kay Burley on a visit to Washington, where the government is working on plans with the US to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin profiteering from high oil prices.
“We have a cost of living crisis, [with] much of it driven by the high level of energy cost that is being used by Putin as a weapon of getting back at us for the help that we give to Ukraine,” he said.
“So this international collaboration is incredibly important, because we have to send a message to Vladimir Putin… [that it is] not going to work to divide us.
“We will remain resolute. We will remain committed to helping Ukraine get their country back.”
Asked how long the UK could continue its support when the crisis is growing at home, the chancellor said prices would be “much greater” if Britain walked away and Europe has to “co-ordinate”.
“We need to be resolute and remember why we’re doing this,” Mr Zahawi told Kay Burley. “There is war on our continent.
“Very few people predicted that. Wars happen in far flung places. And our response now [is] our ability to stay strong.
“[But] of course, we have to make sure as chancellor, as a government, we help those families that need the help, and target that help.”
‘Nothing off the table’
The minister refused to be drawn on what measures either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will take if they get the keys to Downing Street next week, with both candidates remaining tight lipped on their exact plans.
But he promised the Treasury had been preparing “all the options” and “there’s nothing off the table”, adding: “It would be irresponsible of a chancellor to begin to talk numbers before a new prime minister is in Number 10.”
However, Mr Zahawi admitted he was “deeply concerned” about how the cold will hit households this winter and his “preference” was to target any help to those on lowest incomes.
Pushed on if he could guarantee no-one would be cut off for not being able to pay their bills, the chancellor said: “No one should be cut off because they can’t afford their bills.
“I am working with the companies… to make sure those people who are really struggling get that help both financially and personally.”
He added: “My pledge to your viewers is that we will deliver the £37bn [the support package announced earlier this year]… but we’ll go beyond that because we know we need to send the message to Mr Putin that this strategy is not going to work, which is why we have to target help to the most vulnerable to allow us to stretch that help as, far as we can.
“And then, of course, make sure that we remain resolute as a coalition to continue to help Ukraine. They are paying with their lives, with their blood. What we have to do is make sure we continue.”