Watch as South Tyneside shoppers plead with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for help ahead of Autumn Statement budget update
Ahead of the Autumn Budget, Sunderland families have pleaded with the Chancellor for financial support to cope with the cost of living crisis and urged him to protect vital public services such as education and the NHS.
While the chancellor will tomorrow (Thursday, November 17) announce details of the Government’s financial plan to rectify the country’s ailing economy, he has already confirmed this is likely to involve increased taxes and cuts to public spending.
Speaking to the BBC earlier this week Jeremy Hunt said: “We are going to see everyone paying more tax and we are going to see spending cuts.
"But we are a compassionate country so we will introduce a plan that will see us through the very choppy waters we are in economically, but we will make sure we protect the most vulnerable and in particular deal with the single biggest worry for people on low incomes which is the rising cost of their weekly shop and energy prices.”
How this manifests itself will be revealed tomorrow, but with inflation rising to a 41-year high, at 11.1%, the clear message from shoppers in South Shields was that the “ordinary working person can’t absorb any further costs”.
Seaman Mark Ord, 60, who lives in Cleadon Village, said: “Normal people can’t afford any further outgoings.
"I can just about get by, but there are a lot of people living hand to mouth who simply can’t afford the current cost of living.
"People already can’t afford to live on what they have got and are already resorting to having to go to food banks to make ends meet, so how can they afford any further costs?
"The Budget should be targeting the big energy companies and taking back in some of the billions they have made in profits.”
One area of concern is whether the Government continues to adhere to its commitment to the triple lock – ensuring that pensions keep pace with inflation - along with maintaining the current £2,500 cap on energy bills for households.
Former Prime Minister Liz Truss had pledged to maintain the cap for the next two years, however, reports have suggested the current scheme will be ditched in April and replaced with a “more targeted approach”.
Pensioner Ken James, 73, from South Shields, said: “Many people are living on the breadline and any further increase in costs and taxes are a real worry.
"The cost of food has rocketed and I now only buy the essentials and no longer treat myself to things like a nice cake.
"I also shop around a lot more to compare prices. I’ve just had my second cost of living support payment, but this won’t last long. I really hope the Government continues with the energy price cap and their commitment to the triple lock.”
Barry Mills, 70, also from South Shields added: “It’s really tough at the moment with the cost of bills all going up and so I really hope in the budget that the Government pledges to continue with the energy cap – it would be a real concern if they didn’t.
"My wife also read that council tax may increase and this is another concern.”
Retired NHS admin worker Joyce Souter, 74, added: “I really hope the Government confirms that the triple lock pledge will continue as well as the energy price cap as this will be vital for many pensioners."
With public services and local councils already financially stretched to the limit, those people who spoke with the Gazette also questioned where savings could be made and urged the chancellor to protect key sectors, especially health and education.
Barry added: “There certainly shouldn’t be any further cuts to the NHS. I’ve just had an operation and people shouldn’t need to have to go private.”
Ken added: “My daughter is very poorly and already has to pay for her medication and so I hope there are no further cuts to the NHS. We will all need the NHS at some point and you already have to wait for hours to get an appointment.
"Any further cuts would only make this worse.
"My family have all finished their schooling, but I hope there are no cuts to education as this is vital for future generations.”
However, as the Government looks to address a “fiscal black hole” estimated to be worth around £50 billion between income and outgoings, retired manufacturing manager at Procter and Gamble, Alan Westgarth, feels a more pragmatic approach may be necessary.
Alan, 75, from Jarrow, said: “The NHS is an area which shouldn’t be cut, but I do feel help should be based on need and so things like the energy cap should be targeted to those who most need it.
"I know the council is looking to improve South Shields town centre, but there maybe needs to be an acceptance that you can’t spend it if you don’t have it.”
Michael Coggins, 76, also agreed with a more pragmatic approach.
He added: “I don’t see what else the Government can do other than raise taxes to recoup some of the money spent.
"I am concerned about the budget, but there will also have to be cuts to try and cover this hole in the country’s finances.
"When it comes to energy, I think more should be done to access the coal and gas in our own country which, in time, would bring our energy costs down.”