Rishi Sunak has told households to “be careful” about their energy use to help reduce bills, as he vowed fairness would be at the heart of Thursday’s autumn statement while urging restraint on bankers’ bonuses and pledging to end nurses’ use of food banks.
In comments that appear to contrast with his predecessor, Liz Truss, who ardently resisted telling individuals to turn down their heating, the prime minister said using less energy would have the “extra byproduct of increasing our energy security”.
Sunak still said that people could “make their own decisions” as he met world leaders at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, but he admitted most were worried about “high bills”. “There are things that we can do – all of us – to improve the efficiency with which we use energy, to be careful about it,” he told GB News.
Highlighting the existing support payments, as well as the energy price guarantee, the prime minister said his priority was “making sure that we support people who need our help with bills over the winter”.
Though Downing Street later confirmed no new information campaign had been launched, some officials in the business department remain hopeful of persuading ministers of the benefits of a campaign advising people to reduce their energy usage.
The Help for Households website, which signposts support, has also been updated with new advice to consumers.
The Guardian revealed last week that the Treasury is considering raising the energy cap from its current level of £2,500 from next April, with discussions in progress about whether the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, should make an announcement in the autumn statement.
Hunt has reportedly looked at raising the cap for average household use to £3,100 – a jump of £600 – to help pay for a multibillion-pound package of support for those on benefits and pensions to keep their bills lower.
He and Sunak are understood to be in regular contact while the prime minister is at the G20 ahead of the autumn statement, which will be watched closely for the currency and borrowing markets’ reaction given the fallout from September’s disastrous mini-budget.
After admitting over the weekend that everyone would probably face a tax rise, Hunt gave a glimmer of more detail, telling the Commons that the difficult measures to be announced would also include changes to council tax.
The chancellor also said that support “will not end from next April”, though he did not rule out it being cut back.
Meanwhile, in Bali, Sunak remained unapologetic when confronted about suggestions that Truss had caused the roughly £60bn “black hole” in the public finances Hunt is seeking to close with tax rises and public spending cuts.
Six times he declined to say sorry when invited to by Sky News, referring only to the fact that “mistakes were made” and adding: “What I want to do now is fix them.”
Sunak said Thursday’s statement would be fair and compassionate, but stressed that inflation remained “the enemy we have to face down”.
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Tackling City executives who have seen bonuses grow by £5,000 a year to up to £20,000, the prime minister urged firms not to hand out bumper pay rises.
He warned: “If we do end up in a wage price spiral the people who are going to suffer the most are the people on the lowest incomes, and we’ll still be having this conversation in a year’s time.”
With some NHS trusts having to set up food banks for staff, Sunak was asked if it was his burning desire to reduce their reliance on the emergency support. “I have said previously that it is,” he told ITV News.
“I think obviously it’s a tragedy people have to use food banks. No one wants to see food banks in our society … I do of course want to get to a position where no one needs to use a food bank.”
While the government is braced for widespread strikes across the health service after nurses voted for industrial action for the first time in decades, Sunak described the requested pay rise of 17% as “unaffordable”.
Asked whether he had private healthcare, Sunak refused to answer, saying only that it was “not appropriate” to talk “about one’s family’s healthcare”.