A COUNCILLOR'S call for the Government to take action to avert a cost-of-living "calamity" has won widespread cross-party support.

Councillor Rob Crute urged the Government to introduce a series of measures to avert financial "catastrophe" for the people of County Durham.

They include removing the 5 percent VAT rate on gas and electricity bills, scrapping the National Insurance hike due to hit pay packets in April and restoring the £20 Universal Credit uplift.

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He also called for increased benefit payments to help hardest hit households, council tax rebates to those who need them most, a freeze to the energy price cap and a windfall tax on profit-rich North Sea oil and gas companies.

The County Durham Labour deputy leader's package to tackle the cost-of-living crisis drew almost unanimous backing from his fellow councillors.

He told a full Durham County Council meeting: "This coming springtime, in just a few short weeks, if they're not addressed beforehand, a number of factors combined are going to lead to the hardest squeeze of household budgets in a generation, leading to a cost-of-living crisis for ordinary working people and families in County Durham and across the UK.

"People are about to be hit with a tax rise in the shape of National Insurance contributions.

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"At the same time energy bills are about to thud on to our doormats and these will be grossly inflated by energy price cap changes that will increase bills by as much as 50%."

Amid falling wages, he said, this would "almost certainly increase the number of households in fuel poverty from four million at the current time to as much as six million.

"In addition, Universal Credit claimants will continue to struggle to make ends meet as the government's decision last year to remove the £20-a-week uplift will continue to eat away at household budgets.

"And as if this wasn't enough, in the next few weeks the rate of inflation is set to soar to its highest level in almost 30 years."

He pointed to the Resolution Foundation think tank's estimate of "an eye-watering £1,200 a year" increase in household costs.

He added: "In the context of this additional hardship looming on the horizon, the people of County Durham are heading for a potentially catastrophic cost-of-living crisis."

He said struggling families would face the harsh choice of "eating or heating - that's the almost impossible quandary of whether to heat your house or put food on the table.

"And all of this in the 21st century in the fifth richest nation on earth.

"So in the hope of preventing this potential calamity, we call on the government to put in place all measures necessary to mitigate the impact of this crisis on the people of County Durham and beyond."

Cllr Crute, County Durham's Labour deputy leader and shadow cabinet member for finance, said his list of measures was "an absolute minimum".

He said a energy price cap freeze would hold down bills and "limit the risk of deepening an already entrenched fuel poverty crisis".

He also urged the Government to put more funding into clean energy and home insulation projects "to win customers off expensive and environmentally harmful fossil fuels".

He told councillors: "This is a crisis made in Downing Street and it's typified by harsh policy decisions.

"The Government must take measures immediately to mitigate the impact of this crisis on working people and hard-pressed families.

"We've offered a way out.

"The rest is up to members this morning to support this motion and call on the Government to finally get its act together, put its own self-inflicted crisis and chaos to one side for a moment and for once try to focus its energies on delivering a decent standard of living for our residents and at the same time alleviate the financial burden of this impending cost-of-living crisis."

Cllr Paul Sexton said: "I think everybody is all of the same mind to support this motion."

The motion was carried with 103 councillors voting in favour, none against and four abstentions.


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