Boris Johnson has admitted that the government has not done enough to alleviate the pain of the cost of living crisis, as he struggled to articulate any extra help that a pensioner choosing between heating and eating could access.
The prime minister also rebuffed the prospect of a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, saying the government wanted to encourage energy companies to invest to bring down costs.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday, Johnson said: “I accept that those contributions from the taxpayer, because that’s what it is – taxpayers’ money – isn’t going to be enough immediately to help cover everybody.”
He added: “There is more that we can do but the crucial thing is to make sure we deal with the prices over the medium and long term.”
Johnson was asked what more a 77-year-old viewer, Elsie, could do to reduce spending and was told she was already cutting down to one meal a day and spending days on buses to keep warm. He said he “didn’t want her to have to cut back on anything” but could not articulate what further help would look like.
“Just to remind you that the 24-hour freedom bus pass was something that I introduced,” he added.
Johnson said he was not prepared to put further taxes on oil and gas companies, a move that Labour has called for and that was hinted at by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, last week.
“If you put a windfall tax on the energy companies, what that means is that you discourage them from making the investments that we want to see that will, in the end, keep energy prices lower for everybody. This is going to be something we have to fix.”
His comments came as BP announced $6.2bn (£5bn) profits for the first three months of this year, figures that the TUC called “obscene” at a time of soaring bills.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, said: “The oil and gas firms may be doing their job for the shareholders of their companies but the government is negligently failing to do its job for the people of this country.”
Johnson was pressed on why the government had not increased benefits in line with inflation, admitting that inflation “could get worse” and saying that would “knock on to the cost of borrowing for everybody”.
“And I’m sorry to say this, but we have to be prudent in our approach,” he said. “We have to help people like Elsie and the families you mentioned, in the short term with huge sums of taxpayers’ cash, through the local councils or through the schemes we’re doing … but the best answer is to have a strong economy where we keep interest rates as strong as reasonable and we ensure we get people into high wage, high skills jobs.”
In the interview, Johnson was pressed repeatedly on whether he had lied to the public over Downing Street parties. “I do my best to represent faithfully and accurately what I believe and sometimes it’s controversial and sometimes it offends people, but that’s what I do,” he said.
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Pushed on whether he lied, Johnson said: “If you’re talking about the statements I made in the House of Commons, I was inadvertently, I was wrong and I’ve apologised for that.”
Johnson said he had not been fined again. “I’m sure that will not remain a secret.” He said he had “no idea’ whether he would be fined again. “I will make sure that as soon as I’m able to say something on the conclusion of the investigation, that you have a lot more from me on this.”
Johnson was speaking before an address to the Ukrainian parliament. He said he remained proud of the Homes for Ukraine scheme to allow people to host refugees in their homes in the UK, which has been hit with multiple reports of failings. “Perhaps we could have done it faster,” he said. “The results are starting to be really excellent.”