What can the government do to ease the cost of living crisis? The Chancellor drew criticism in his spring statement for not doing enough – yet there are ministers, such as Kit Malthouse, who take the view the government has already spent too much. At a recent cabinet meeting Malthouse suggested Johnson and Sunak reopen the spending review and make cuts in the face of rising inflation. Cost of living is now viewed as the number one issue in government – as deputy chief of staff David Canzini has briefed aides.
Today Boris Johnson is attempting to show he is on the front foot by chairing a cabinet in which he has asked ministers to come forward with cost of living solutions. However, in a sign of the limits of government intervention, these are to be non-fiscal measures – they are not supposed to involve new funds. As I reported in the magazine, the view in government is that the tricky financial landscape means that ministers must get creative.
‘It shouldn’t just be all on Rishi to hand out dough,’ says a senior government figure. Measures under review include raising the cap for the maximum number of children a childminder can look after – which currently stands at six children under the age of eight. The Prime Minister’s great hope is that a plan for growth will come together which in turn will ease cost of living. Johnson has been waxing lyrical to colleagues about the answer to current issues being economic growth, from investment and skills to free ports.
Rather than partygate, MPs worry that the biggest issue at the next election will be the economy. The Tories have lost their lead on the issue and are now equal to Labour on which party is most trusted when it comes to the economy. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer is facing pressure from members of his shadow cabinet to move the focus from No. 10 parties to cost of living. It’s for these reasons that it’s easy to see why Johnson looks as though he is taking charge and that his ministers are acutely aware of the problems people are facing. But it could also expose differences of opinion in Cabinet over the best way to boost growth and simply highlight the limits of government intervention when it comes to easing the burden.