'I can't solve every problem' Rishi Sunak warns as calls mount to scrap fuel duty

18 March 2022, 15:05 | Updated: 18 March 2022, 15:11

Rishi Sunak was speaking at the Conservative spring forum
Rishi Sunak was speaking at the Conservative spring forum. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Rishi Sunak has warned he "can't solve every problem" as the Government comes under increasing pressure to scrap fuel duty amid a worsening cost of living crisis.

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Speaking at the Tory spring forum in Blackpool, the Chancellor said some financial hurdles were out of his control and said "no government can solve every problem".

"I have enormous sympathy for what people are going through at the moment and that's why we will always be there to help make a difference where we can," said Mr Sunak.

"I can't solve every problem, no government can solve every problem, particularly when you are grappling with global inflationary forces - they are somewhat out of my control.

"But as you saw a month or so ago when we announced the very significant intervention to help people meet some of the additional costs of energy bills, where we can make a difference, of course I can - I'm always going to do that, we've done it over the last two years."

Read more: Gordon Brown says Scots facing cost of living 'catastrophe'

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But more than 50 MPs have signed an open letter to Mr Sunak calling for him to slash fuel duty, saying the surging prices are "simply unaffordable for working families".

The letter, started by former education minister Rob Halfon, welcomes the 12-year fuel duty freeze but said the government must "go further by either cutting fuel duty or reducing VAT on fuel".

It added: "This could be done with the extra £2bn the government has received in fuel tax revenue as a direct result of the higher prices."

There were hopes Mr Sunak could use next week's spring statement to outline more support as petrol prices continue to surge, but the Chancellor has played down such suggestions.

The economy has taken a battering in recent years, primarily caused by Covid.

Mr Sunak said it would not have been "economically responsible" to avoid addressing the problems by increasing taxes, but suggested there were no more tax rises to come, saying: "That is done.

"We have made the difficult decisions that we had to make.

"My priority going forward is to cut taxes."

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Mr Sunak said the UK Government had been forced to lurch from "crisis to crisis", with ministers reacting to a pandemic, fast-paced inflation, retail supply trouble, a fuel crisis and the war in Ukraine.

He said the increase in national insurance next month was necessary to fund the clearing of the Covid NHS backlog, arguing he was following in Margaret Thatcher's footsteps by dealing with the deficit after pandemic borrowing reached highs not seen since World War II.

The UK is experiencing a tightening cost of living squeeze, driven partly by soaring energy bills - set to worsen after Western moves to diverge from Russian oil and gas following Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Soaring petrol prices, an increase in national insurance set to hit in April, and steep increases in inflation all exacerbate the situation.

Read more: Boris Johnson will receive £2,212 pay rise in April as cost of living crisis hits

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Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis has said the Government "must intervene".

"So many people at crisis point regarding energy bills - including those with v high usage due to disabilities (home ventilators, oxygen concentrators, elec wheel chairs etc)," he tweeted.

"I am nearly OUT OF TOOLS to help.

"Govt must intervene."