The chair of John Lewis Partnership, Dame Sharon White, has called on the government to launch a financial package of support to help families navigate the cost-of-living crisis.
White has insisted that fiscal intervention is required on the same scale as during the coronavirus pandemic when Number 10 implemented the furlough scheme to protect workers’ jobs.
White, a former second permanent secretary at the Treasury, made the comments at a time when utility bills are soaring and rampant inflation is pushing up the cost of food bills.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston show on Wednesday, White said: “The time has absolutely come for action, whether it is an emergency budget or whether it is another vehicle.
“The decisive action we saw I thought the government did incredibly well at the pace and scale during Covid. I think we need to see the same decisive action taken at speed and at pace.”
White said the cost-of-living crisis represented “at least as pressing a challenge” to the UK as the Covid pandemic and added: “The hit is either going to happen to households, to families, to people on low incomes or we take a decision that, given the scale and everything that’s happening … actually a temporary hit on public finances is worth it.”
The Queen’s speech delivered a lack of movement by way of fiscal help for families, but prime minister Boris Johnson hinted that an update could be made imminently by chancellor Rishi Sunak.
That has sparked fresh calls for an emergency budget and for policies such as a new ‘windfall tax’ on energy firms such as Shell and BP, both of which posted surging profits last week as they cashed in on soaring energy prices.
The John Lewis chair said “the government and the regulator [Ofgem] need to act” ahead of a planned second rise in the energy price cap in October.
She admitted that a windfall tax is “not perfect” but said: “Actually, given the severity and the urgency of the situation, I think it’s a reasonable approach.”
White’s comments came just days after Tesco chair John Allan said there was an “overwhelming case for a windfall tax on profits for those energy producers” at a time when families across the UK are facing “real food poverty for the first time in a generation”.
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