THEOn the high street in the leafy suburb of Roundhay, where Liz Truss went to school and her parents still live, there is a sense of disappointment, even anger, at the measures announced in Friday’s mini-budget.
Children’s playboy Catherine Brittain was forced to negotiate with her energy provider, which saw her bills rise from £109 a month to £350. He was able to agree to pay £200 until after Christmas.
He said: “I can’t afford to pay more. I’m worried about the cost of living and I haven’t communicated that to the parents at the moment, but I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up.’
She has to provide a warm home for the children she cares for, as well as meals, and that comes at a cost.
“I am not a charity. I could charge more, but I charge what I think is fair.”
Britain is concerned about the ability of Truss – “a vile man” – and his cabinet to avert a massive financial crisis and is skeptical of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax reforms.
Kwarteng unveiled a surprise cut in income tax, scrapping the additional rate, which sees high earners pay 45% on any income above £150,000. He also pushed through a planned 1% cut in the basic income tax rate from 2024 to next year.
“They’re just helping the rich and maybe a few crumbs will eventually dribble to us.
“We need a windfall tax or we will pass these debts on to our children.”
Last month, Sade Scales’ monthly direct bill for her gas and electricity rose from £65 to £89 overnight. It may not seem like a lot compared to what some people pay, but she works as a part-time carer in Leeds while looking after a disabled child, any further rises will hit her hard.
Because her bills are comparatively low, she won’t be helped by the energy price cap announced by Truss earlier this month, which only benefits those who spend more than £2,500 a year.
“I have some credit on my energy bill, but I had to reduce,” he said. “I think I’ll need extra money this winter as it gets worse.”
She was disappointed that other countries, such as France, had been largely insulated from energy price increases by government policies. In January, the French government capped price increases by state energy company EDF at 4%. It also made a one-off payment of €100 (£84) last year to the poorest 5.8 million households.
Scales added: “It’s not our fault. Like why are you taking it out on us? There has to be a cut-off point.”
Her friend Sandra Smith, a parent and carer, agreed.
“Many of my single friends are not doing well. It’s a struggle, living month to month. I don’t have much faith that anything will get better,” he said.
Smith was also disappointed to hear of plans to force Universal Credit claimants to work longer hours, as a former recipient who knows how hard it is to survive on what is on offer.
Kwarteng announced that claimants working less than 15 hours a week would be penalized if they were not seen as trying to find more work, in a bid to “put Britain back to work”.
Smith said: “Universal credit is the worst thing ever. All your money is pooled instead of being spent on different things. When I was on it I would only have £300 left over after paying the rent and that didn’t include bills. It puts people at risk.”
It’s a particularly strange announcement, he said, given that unemployment rates are at historic lows and most credit recipients from around the world are working. In addition, he said, the push for claimants to take on more work is already happening.
“I was doing 15 hours and they were pushing me to do 25. I really wanted to work more but it was so hard to find childcare. They are not helping you. The whole system is discouraging,” he said.
“You might need a down payment to pay for something up front and they can just refuse you if they don’t feel the reason is good enough.”
Scales added: “You can see why people turn to crime. It’s fast money.”
Close to Leeds’ much-loved attraction Tropical World, an indoor wildlife park and aquarium, Kwarteng’s measures were equally unpopular.
Katie Fenton-Green, a PE teacher on maternity leave, echoed the sentiments on the high street. “It hasn’t hit us yet, but we’re more worried than normal. I’ve been looking for merino wool blankets for the baby.’
Her wife works full-time for ITV, which recently gave staff a cost-of-living allowance. But she is bothered by the lack of measures in the budget to tackle energy companies’ profits while people struggle.
“I just don’t feel the cost is justified while companies are reporting profits. It would be understandable if companies were struggling, but they aren’t, and the government just seems to be helping those on welfare.”
Even those who expect to benefit from the mini-budget can’t make sense of it.
Sam Smith, an accountant, and his partner Tia McKeon, who works in digital marketing, would be better off under the chancellor’s plans to scrap the increase in national insurance payments.
“It feels kind of unnecessary,” Smith said. “Most people wouldn’t mind helping out more where they can and we’re not struggling people. They are always more affected by the worst, although I don’t know what the other option is.”