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    Rishi Sunak to hand NHS £6bn to tackle waiting lists and boost tech

    A £5.9bn billion package aimed at tackling NHS waiting lists in England will form part of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn Budget, the Treasury has said.However, previous estimates suggest the sum may not be enough to clear the enormous backlog in care and end long delays faced by patients.The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment in England has hit 5.6 million people, the latest NHS figures show – the highest number since records began in 2007.The chancellor will set out £3.8bn in extra spending to get the health service “back on track” after the Covid crisis, with investment going into diagnostic services, surgical hubs and boosting bed capacity.Roughly £2.1bn of the new package will not go directly on care, however, and will instead be spent on “digitising” the NHS, as the government attempts to push the health service into an efficiency drive.The Treasury said the additional spending comes on top of the government’s plan to spend £8bn on tackling the backlog for non-emergency treatments over the next three years.But the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers groups said last month that the NHS needed an extra £10bn each year for the next three years just to cover the costs of Covid and tackle the significant treatment backlog.And independent charity the Health Foundation estimated in September that it would cost up to £16.8bn for the next three years to clear the backlog in NHS elective care and return hospital waiting times to 18 weeks.The NHS announcement comes as Mr Sunak faces pressure from both Labour and backbench Conservative MPs to increase efforts to help families and businesses struggling with rising costs.Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told The Andrew Marr Show that the chancellor should be doing more to “ease the cost-of-living price crisis” and help businesses “who have had a torrid 18 months”.She said the opposition would slash the rate of VAT on gas and electricity bills from 5 per cent to 0 per cent for six months and abolish business rates.Labour said its own analysis of government figures showed that people in the poorest 10 per cent of households are paying an extra £250 a year more for their energy bills than the richest 10 per cent.Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on Mr Sunak to announce a windfall tax on gas producers to help provide more support for families struggling with their fuel bills.“Fossil fuel companies are raking it in hand over fist through this gas crisis. The least they can do is pay a little more in tax to help struggling families get through the winter,” Sir Ed told The Independent – estimating a windfall tax could raise up to £10bn.Tory MPs are keen for the chancellor to slash business rates as part of a major overhaul of the system. But reports suggest only minor changes will be announced at Wednesday’s Budget, despite Mr Sunak’s pledge last year to carry on “fundamental review” of rates.Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford – one of the red wall MPs who won seats in traditional Labour-voting territory in 2019 – told The Independent a business rate cut was overdue.“I want to cut as many taxes as we can, because it creates new businesses, jobs and wealth,” he said. “We also need to show voters that the jobs are coming back … Any party needs to worry about the next election.”Despite the swathe of pre-Budget announcements, Mr Sunak would not be drawn on whether he could rule out tax rises before the next election. He told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “You’re asking me to do my Budget live on your show – I’ll do it in parliament on Wednesday.”The chancellor rejected calls from England football star Marcus Rashford to extend the government’s free school meal programme. He told Andrew Marr the government had moved to “a more normal way of doing things” after putting extra money into school meals during the Covid crisis.Labour said the £500m Mr Sunak has set aside for new “family hubs” and other measures to support parents with young children could not make up for a decades of cuts. Ms Reeves called the plan a “pale imitation” of Labour’s Sure Start programme.The chancellor was also forced to admit that his £7bn pre-Budget pledge for new transport projects contained only £1.5bn of new money. Pressed on how much was new, the chancellor conceded £4.2bn had previously been announced. “What we’ve done is top that up,” he told Sky News.The Treasury insisted that the £5.9bn announced for the NHS was all new spending. The government claimed the additional money will support the aim to deliver around 30 per cent more on checks, scans and procedures for non-emergency patients by 2024-25, compared to pre-pandemic levels.Describing the funding package as “game-changing”, Mr Sunak said: “We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment.”Health secretary Sajid Javid, said the extra money would support “the delivery of millions more checks, scans and procedures for patients across the country”.The government hopes the extra investment in IT and data services to create digital patient records will speed up working practices in the NHS. “Business as usual won’t be enough,” said Mr Javid.Reports suggest the chancellor is preparing to lift the freeze on public sector pay and announce an increase in the minimum wage from the present rate of £8.91 an hour, but he gave little away in his interviews on Sunday.Ahead of Wednesday’s Budget, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) director Paul Johnson warned Mr Sunak that “the level of promise is pretty high relative to the level of resource available”.Mr Johnson told Times Radio: “I think there is a political danger nevertheless that the promises, the big promises on levelling up, the big promises on net zero, big promises on health and so on are going to be pretty hard to fund within what remains a fairly tight envelope.” More

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    ‘Prosperous’ cabinet ministers’ seats in line for millions of development cash in new ‘levelling up’ row

    Seats held by seven cabinet ministers are in line to receive tens of millions of pounds of development cash despite previously being judged as not needing the funds, triggering fresh accusations of bias in “levelling up”.The constituencies of Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, are on a list of “priority places” ahead of a new £1.5bn annual fund.Yet all three – plus those of Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, chief whip Mark Spencer and Robert Jenrick, the former communities minister – had been classed as “most developed” and unlikely to receive grants.The revelation, from research for The Independent, has provoked a fresh outcry over a post-Brexit shake-up of development spending, after delays that have already swiped around £1.5bn from needy areas this year.Independent experts warned ministers are ignoring where “need is greatest” and making a mockery of Boris Johnson’s celebrated pledge to level up the country.Labour accused the government of “funnelling money to richer cabinet ministers’ constituencies”, after similar controversies over different funding pots.The long-promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund – to replace the loss of the £1.8bn-a-year EU structural funds – is already mired in controversy, after being delayed until next year.The government promised to match the pre-Brexit grants – to build local economies by attracting businesses and jobs – but even a stopgap £220m fund, for 2021-22, has yet to hand out any money.A total of 100 “priority places” were announced, across England, Scotland and Wales, for that stopgap UK Community Renewal Fund to help them “prepare” for grants from the £1.5bn Shared Prosperity Fund to follow next year, although other areas will also be eligible.That list sparked anger by excluding some poorer areas – Liverpool, Sheffield, Knowsley, Carlisle, Plymouth and Preston – that received the EU funds.Now research by the House of Commons library has revealed that seven cabinet ministers’ seats were in low-priority “most developed” areas under the old scheme – but are now first in line for many millions of pounds each.They are in the local authorities of Richmondshire, in North Yorkshire (Mr Sunak’s constituency), King’s Lynn & West Norfolk (Ms Truss’s), Fenland, in northeast Cambridgeshire (Mr Barclay’s), Newark and Sherwood, in Nottinghamshire (Mr Spencer’s and Mr Jenrick’s), Northumberland (Ms Trevelyan’s) and Great Yarmouth (Mr Lewis’s). More

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    Boris Johnson news – live: Marcus Rashford school meal plea rejected, as PM criticised on energy crisis

    Rishi Sunak rejects Marcus Rashford’s call for free school meals extensionBoris Johnson faces criticism over his handling of the energy and supply chain crises, as exclusive polling for The Independent has found two-thirds of voters say he has performed badly.In addition, only 41 per cent of people polled for this website by Savanta ComRes said they were confident in how the government was handling the economy – just days before Rishi Sunak is due to set out his budget.Earlier on Sunday the chancellor rejected a fresh plea from Marcus Rashford to extend free school meals, saying the government had already acted to help children and has now “transitioned to a more normal way of doing things” post-Covid.Viewers of Mr Sunak’s Budget speech on Wednesday may not get many surprises because the Treasury has already trailed some £20bn of investment ahead of time.The spending spree includes some £7bn to “level up” transport outside London, though not all of it is new money; £500m for family support including new children’s centres; and £5bn for health research and genome sequencing.Show latest update

    1635087350Labour demands government brings in Covid plan B restrictions nowLabour has called on Boris Johnson’s government to bring in its so-called “plan B” restrictions to tackle the surge in Covid cases, writes Adam Forrest.Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said ministers must listen to scientific advisers asking for tougher curbs – including the mandatory wearing of masks in public places and a return to work-from-home guidance.“We think we should follow the science – if the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that,” Ms Reeves said on The Andrew Marr Show.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 15:551635086210Opinion: What’s really happening in the Budget? These are the signals so farThe autumn Budget is on Wednesday, when we will get the usual tsunami of numbers about the economy and public finances, together with a string of things that the government is spending money on, writes Hamish McRae.That will be followed by a series of protests from the various lobby groups about the underfunding of their areas of interest, plus another set of protests from other lobbyists about the rising burden of taxes to pay for all this.There is nothing wrong with all this. Quite the reverse, for it is a key part of the whole democratic process that public spending and taxation should be scrutinised in this way. But the noise of the competing interest groups drowns out the signals that might tell us what is really happening.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 15:361635085190Will Rishi Sunak lose his battle to avoid winter lockdown?There is a wearily familiar pattern to Boris Johnson’s public statements during the Covid crisis, writes Adam Forrest.The prime minister tells us he hopes there will be no need for a lockdown, then belatedly bows to the data and announces another round of restrictions.Will the same cycle play out during a fourth wave this winter? The astute political commentator Gary Neville is in little doubt about what happens next.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 15:191635084002Opinion: The Budget is a golden opportunity to set out an economy that works better for consumers – they should take itThe strong economic recovery following the initial shocks of the pandemic defied most expectations, writes Rocio Conta.Yet there are concerning signs that our bounceback is starting to falter. The economy remains smaller now than in February 2020, and the rate of growth has slowed considerably since earlier this year.Some consumers have managed to increase their savings in the past 18 months, but many haven’t been so fortunate. For them, the result is an erosion of living standards, exacerbated by the recent rises in the price of fuel, energy and food.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 15:001635082130Exclusive: Johnson’s government has handled energy and supply crises badly, say two-thirds of votersTwo in three people think Boris Johnson’s government has botched its handling of the energy and supply crises which have seen firms collapse and empty supermarket shelves, exclusive polling for The Independent has found.The same survey found the majority of voters are “not confident” about the prime minister’s handling of the economy, as his chancellor Rishi Sunak prepares to set out his Budget plans next week, writes Adam Forrest.Some 64 per cent of voters said the government has handled the country’s supply chain problems and lorry driver shortages “badly”, according to the survey by Savanta ComRes.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 14:281635080968Conservative MP urges Johnson to deliver on devolutionJake Berry, who chairs the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs, called on Boris Johnson to deliver on his promise of devolution.The Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen and former northern powerhouse minister spoke about foreign direct investment on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.He said: “Frankly after the Covid pandemic, the government doesn’t have enough money on its own to make the commitment to level up these communities and we want to see new businesses with good highly paid jobs … locating in the regions of the UK.”He added: “It’s really important the prime minister delivers on his promise of devolution, so you have mayors who can go out and talk to the world…”I do think Andy Burnham has done a good job in Greater Manchester in the area of attracting foreign direct investment.”Jon Sharman24 October 2021 14:091635079741Sunak reveals pre-Budget speech ritualsRishi Sunak has revealed his “pre-game routine” will be to have a Twix and a can of Sprite before delivering his Budget on Wednesday.The chancellor, who has a self-confessed “sugar problem”, and has previously said he was a “total coke addict” – before clarifying that he meant the fizzy drink, not the class A drug – was asked on Times Radio whether he had any rituals or superstitions ahead of the event.And he said: “I have a general pre-game routine, pre-match routine, for when I have to do parliamentary things which is, look, I have a sugar problem so I tend to have a Twix and a can of Sprite, even though my favourite thing is Coke but I save that for afterwards.”But I have a Twix and a can of Sprite which Lisa who runs my office always make sure is sitting there on my desk in parliament, so that is my immediate pre-game kind of booster.”Mr Sunak also said his children “have a lot of input generally on the tie selection and I sometimes wear some bracelets that they make”.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 13:491635078601Sunak won’t commit to wearing face mask in CommonsRishi Sunak has refused to commit to wearing a mask inside the crowded Commons chamber.The chancellor dodged questions on whether he though cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg was right to say Tory MPs did not have to wear face coverings because of they had a more “convivial, fraternal spirit” than Labour.But he suggested it was “appropriate” for MPs to decide to go without a mask in the Commons. “The government guidance is for people to make decisions based on what they think is appropriate based on the circumstances they are in.”“Every workplace is going to be different depending on how many people are there, how long you’re there for, whether you know the people or not.”Jon Sharman24 October 2021 13:301635077461Nike suspends trainer recycling programme over Brexit costsNike has suspended its Reuse-a-Shoe recycling scheme in the UK as the recycling industry grapples with high costs related to Brexit, writes Kate Ng.Customers looking to send their old shoes off for recycling can still collect a recycling bag from Nike stores to be sent to one of the brand’s four distribution centres in Belgium.But now, they must pack the items themselves and pay for postage, which was previously paid for by Nike.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 13:111635075961Vaccines minister insists Covid-19 ‘plan A’ is workingThe new vaccines minister Maggie Throup says the government’s current approach to the surge in Covid-19 cases is working – refusing to say whether “plan B” measures could be introduced.Speaking to LBC, Ms Throup refused to say whether further restrictions such as mandatory masks or work from home guidance. “The data right now shows that ‘plan A’ is working.”Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said earlier today that ‘plan B’ was not yet needed. However, some elements of the tougher measures are already in place – warning the public about the rising risk of coronavirus, and giving extra help to areas suffering “enduring transmission”.Minister have thus far resisted more interventions, which would include mandatory face masks and advice to work from home.Jon Sharman24 October 2021 12:46 More

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    MPs avoiding £70,000 a year in congestion and emissions charges by putting them on expenses

    MPs who drive into Westminster are avoiding tens of thousands of pounds a year in congestion charges and ultra low emission zone fees by putting them on expenses, an investigation by The Independent has found. Clean air groups have written to parliament’s expenses watchdog asking it to stop MPs avoiding the anti-pollution charges, which are supposed to deter people from driving into central London and adding to its illegal levels of air pollution.MPs expensed nearly £70,000 of congestion charge and ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) fees in the most recent full financial year – and have managed to rack up another £10,000 bill in the two months before this year’s summer recess.Many of the MPs claiming the fees on expenses drive more polluting cars that require them to pay the additional Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) fees – which brings their total payments to £27.50 a day. But under parliamentary expense rules they can have the taxpayer cover the cost, an approach the chair of London’s health committee warns “defeats the point of having these deterring measures in place”.The Independent has identified 116 MPs who have expensed £15 congestion charges or ULEZ fees at least once since the beginning of the current financial year – 86 of them Conservatives and 24 Labour. None of the MPs have broken any rules as IPSA, parliament’s expenses watchdog, allows both fees to be legitimately reimbursed.The most-high profile MP to have the taxpayer cover both the congestion charge and ULEZ charge was Matt Hancock, who made the expense claims while he was still health secretary and allegedly having an affair with an aide. Other ministers expensing TfL road charges include environment minister Jo Churchill, who claimed £325 to cover fees in March alone. So far this financial year Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns has expensed over £302 in both congestion charges and ULEZ charges, while Wales minister David TC Davies expensed over £192. Former environment secretary Owen Paterson has also expensed both the congestion charge and ULEZ charge.Other well-known MPs to put the congestion charge down as an expense include shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour rising star Jess Philips, and Tory MP Mark Harper – who chairs the Covid recovery group which argues against coronavirus restrictions. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle also expensed £25 worth of TfL road charges in March this year. Not all 116 MPs identified made clear which of the two charges they were expensing in their claims, so it is not possible to work out exactly how many were driving more polluting cars that attracted the higher ULEZ fee.The revelation comes ahead of the expansion of the ULEZ on Monday, with the anti-pollution charge extended to cover most of inner London as far as the north and south circular roads. Environmental issues are also high on the agenda because world leaders will this week travel to the UK for the first day of the landmark COP26 climate conference.In a letter to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) shared with The Independent, six clean air groups said they were “deeply concerned” and called for an “urgent” review of the Commons expenses policy.Arguing the scheme needed everyone to play their part and that MP should be “role models”, they said: “The public should not have to pick up the bill for MPs who choose to drive a polluting car in London. This is on top of the public costs we already face from air pollution – scientists estimate every car driven in an inner-city area in the UK costs the NHS and society around £7,714 over its lifetime.”Accepting that the claims were “legitimate” under the existing rules, the groups added: “There is however a legal and moral duty to take all the action we can to improve air quality. We are therefore writing to request that this policy is urgently reviewed so that MPs are no longer allowed to claim ULEZ and Clean Air Zone charges. This will protect our health, the public purse and, importantly, ensure MPs are encouraged to take a lead in using greener transport.”The letter to IPSA was organised by the Clean Cities Campaign – a coalition of European NGOs campaigning for zero-emission mobility – and was also signed by representatives from Mums for Lungs, the Car Free Cities Campaign, CPRE London, the London Cycling Campaign, and Fare City. Caroline Russell, the Green London Assembly member who chairs the body’s health committee, told The Independent: “Employers allowing employees to regularly expense a charge like the ULEZ or congestion charge just to get to work completely defeats the point of having these deterring measures in place. “The charges exist to discourage the use of cars, especially the most toxic ones – and a parliament that has declared a climate emergency should only allow the use of these polluting vehicles on expenses in the most exceptional circumstances.”The Palace of Westminster where MPs work is one of the best connected buildings on the planet, with its own private underground entrance to Westminster tube station, a number of 24-hour bus routes on its doorstep, and London’s most popular cycle path going past its front gate.Jenny Bates, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “MPs should be setting an example and not drive unnecessarily into central London, contributing to climate emissions and the capital’s deadly air pollution. “Air pollution is responsible for the early deaths of thousands of Londoners a year, causing kids’ lungs to not develop properly, causing lung cancer and triggering heart attacks and strokes, among other problems.” She added: “Many parts of the capital fail current UK legal levels for the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide, as well as nearly all of the city failing even the previous World Health Organisation guidelines for the most dangerous fine particle matter pollution which can get deep into lungs and even the bloodstream“If MPs are paying the ULEZ charge that means that their vehicle is particularly polluting and should be left at home, or swapped for a cleaner vehicle.”Although the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have encouraged more MPs to drive in and expense the charges, the practice was widespread before the disease hit. MPs expensed around £40,000 in congestion charges and ULEZ fees in the financial year 2019-2020, which ended at the beginning of April 2020.The expenses rules laid down by IPSA specifically say MPs can claim for emissions charges. Rule 9.18 states: “MPs using private transport may claim reimbursement of the costs of parking charges, congestion and ultra-low emission zone charging and road tolls. Penalty charges or additional charges for late payment, or civil charges for traffic, parking or other violations, will not be reimbursed.”Asked about the rule, a spokesperson said: “MPs are able to claim the ULEZ charge as the Houses of Parliament are within the ULEZ and they are required to attend Parliament as part of their role as an MP.”After The Independent had collated the data for this story, but before IPSA responded to a request for comment, the expenses authority wiped the relevant details from the expenses data from its website. Asked why this had been done, a spokesperson for IPSA said that the authority had “temporarily” removed “descriptive detail from previously published claims on our website” as a security measure as a response to the killing of MP David Amess a week ago. The congestion charge to drive into central London is £15 a day, and the ULEZ charge for the most polluting cars is another £12.50 on top of this. Electric vehicles do not have to pay anything, and people living inside the congestion charge zone – as many MPs do – can claim a 90 per cent residents’ discount. More

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    Labour demands government brings in Covid plan B restrictions now

    Labour has called on Boris Johnson’s government to bring in its so-called “plan B” restrictions to tackle the surge in Covid cases.Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said ministers must listen to scientific advisers asking for tougher curbs – including the mandatory wearing of masks in public places and a return to work-from-home guidance. “We think we should follow the science – if the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that,” Ms Reeves said on The Andrew Marr Show.Asked if Labour was in favour of mandatory masks, work from home guidance and vaccination certification, the frontbencher said: “Yes, we’re relaxed about that. We think the government should do it.”Ms Reeves added: “The government’s dither and delay risks storing up problems for the future … I think we should introduce those things that the scientists say.“Plan B and those measures like mask wearing, which we should be doing … If we don’t do these things the risk is that the virus gets out of control and that we have to introduce more stringent measures, which frankly nobody wants.”The shadow chancellor also said “we don’t want to let the government off the hook in terms of plan A … there are things like better statutory sick pay and better ventilation that are also needed”.Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that plan B measures were not necessary “today”, but hinted the government’s position could change.“The data does not suggest we need to be immediately moving to plan B,” Mr Sunak told Marr. “But of course we will keep an eye on that. The plan B does not involve the same type of very significant economic restrictions we saw previously … so that won’t be necessary.” Asked if a new furlough scheme was possible, Mr Sunak said: “I think we’re in a different place because of the vaccine programme … we have that plan B if we need it. The data doesn’t suggest we need it today. But if that changes then of course government will be ready to act.”The government’s new vaccines minister Maggie Throup also claimed plan A is “working” and the ministers were “sticking” with it. She told LBC: “Plan A is working, as I said, the data right now shows that Plan A is working.”Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was “quite questionable” for Mr Sunak to suggest more booster jabs alone would be enough to see the nation through the grim season ahead.Prof Finn told Times Radio on Saturday the government should “do more” to toughen up on restrictions now to avoid the need for another national lockdown.Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the Nervtag group, said he feared a full lockdown would be needed at Christmas “if we don’t act soon” with plan B measures. “There’s no point in delaying,” he told the BBC.Meanwhile, The Observer reported that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) contacted local authorities on Friday to canvass their level of support for the “immediate rollout of the winter plan – plan B”.In the sign that Whitehall is actively planning for a possible escalation in measures, the agency reportedly told council chiefs it was urgently seeking their views to be fed into the Cabinet Office. More

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    Rishi Sunak rejects Marcus Rashford’s call for free school meals extension

    Chancellor Rishi Sunak has rejected calls from Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to extend the government’s free school meal programme.The campaigning England star and supermarket bosses have called on ministers to push the scheme into the school holidays in a joint letter ahead of the Budget.But Mr Sunak appeared to rule out any further support for meals – saying the government had “transitioned to a more normal way of doing things” after extra money put in place during the Covid crisis.The chancellor told The Andrew Marr Show: “We put in place some measures to help families during coronavirus, that was the right thing to do, and in common with the other things that have now come to an end … that’s right that we’ve transitioned to a more normal way of doing things.Arguing the government’s existing holiday activities scheme was sufficient, Mr Sunak said: “We have actually already acted, is what I’d say to Marcus and everyone else.”The chancellor added: “We’ve put in place something called the holiday activities program, which provides not just meals but also activities for children during holiday periods. That is a new programme, it was announced earlier this year … and I think that can make an enormous difference to people.”In a letter to the Sunday Times, Mr Rashford and supermarket chiefs – including the bosses of Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer – called for free school meals to be extended to millions more children.Children currently qualify only for free meals if their household earns less than £7,400. But Mr Rashford wants the threshold raised to £20,000 for both free school meals and Healthy Start vouchers.The England star and food sector leaders also called on the chancellor to commit more funding to free meals over the school holidays. Mr Rashford said the levelling up agenda “surely” begins with “guaranteeing every child in Britain can eat well at least once a day”.Reports suggest the chancellor is preparing to announce an increase in the minimum wage from the present rate of £8.91 an hour, but he gave little away in his interviews on Sunday morning.Mr Sunak has already pledged £500m for “family hubs” and other measures to support parents with young children – but he has been warned it is not enough to make up for a decade of cuts. Labour called the hubs a “pale imitation” of its Sure Start program.Asked on Marr whether it was a mistake to close the network of Sure Start centres introduced under Labour, Sunak insisted the new scheme was “broader than the Sure Start centres, and they bring together lots of different services for new parents”.The chancellor also promised he would take measures to “raise living standards”, but claimed recent cost of living rises hitting hard-pressured families were out of his control.Asked about inflation rising to just over 3 per cent – with a warning from the Bank of England that it could rise above 5 per cent – Mr Sunak said: “The bulk of that increase is down to two things. One of those is the fact that as economies have reopened rather rapidly after coronavirus, that has put pressure on global supply chains.”He added: “The other part of the increase is very much just down to energy prices. Both of those factors are global factors. We’re not alone in experiencing those problems, I don’t have a magic wand that can make either of those things disappear.”Mr Sunak also said he wanted to be a tax-cutting chancellor, despite the government raising national insurance next to pay for a boost to NHS spending and social care.Asked on Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday if he could rule out further tax rises before the next election, Mr Sunak joked: “You’re asking me to do my Budget live on your show … I’ll do it in parliament on Wednesday.” More

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    Rishi Sunak admits £7bn transport pledge has only £1.5bn of new money

    Chancellor Rishi Sunak has admitted that his £7bn pre-Budget pledge for new transport projects contains only £1.5bn of new money.Extra spending will go on train and tram upgrades in England’s cities, Mr Sunak said as he seeks to fend off protests that pledges to the north and Midlands are being broken.Pressed on how much of the money was new, the chancellor conceded £4.2bn had previously been announced. “What we’ve done is top that up by £1.5bn,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday.He added: “It’s a great example of levelling up in practice, and it’s ultimately just going to create growth in all of those places.”Mr Sunak would not be drawn on whether metro mayors would also be told that HS2 will be built in full to Leeds, and whether a stop for Northern Powerhouse Rail would be confirmed for Bradford. “It wouldn’t be right for me to speculate,” he said.Fears have been growing that the HS2 scheme’s eastern leg is to be significantly trimmed or even scrapped as part of the upcoming integrated rail plan.The Independent has learned that a new station in Leeds and a new line connecting the city are likely to be given the go-ahead – but trains will be forced to slow down and run on existing tracks between Yorkshire and the Midlands in a scaling-back of the HS2 leg.Labour’s West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin expressed her dismay at the lack of commitments over HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail from the chancellor – warning him not to “water down” pledges.“What is important for us is that stop in Bradford. We can’t have a watered-down version of our transport network,” she told Sky News. “We have been underfunded for decades.”She added: “Now is the opportunity for government to be bold, to be ambitious and to come with us with our vision for West Yorkshire to have that London-style transport system that will really make us that powerhouse we can be.”Mr Sunak pointed out that Conservative mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and Labour’s Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham had welcomed the announcements he had made.“What the money announced yesterday was about is about what we call intracity transportation, and that’s about how do we get people who live in and around a city to be able to get into the middle of it and out again easily,” the chancellor said on Sunday.Mr Burnham praised the government and said there was now more “alignment” between regional leaders and Whitehall, as his city region appeared to be the big winner from Treasury announcements.It was confirmed Greater Manchester would be handed £1bn in capital funding for the infrastructure elements of the transport plan at the budget on Wednesday. More

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    Rishi Sunak to invest £3bn in skills and education to help workers get better-paid jobs

    Rishi Sunak will announce £3 billion of investment into skills and education in the Budget to help workers get better-paid jobs. The chancellor said the cash injection, which will be given to post-16 education and adults later in life, aims to give people “the skills they need to earn more and get on in life”. In what the government is calling a “skills revolution”, Mr Sunak will announce the number of skills boot camps in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and nuclear will be quadrupled.While £1.6 billion will provide up to 100,000 16- to 19-year-olds studying for T-levels, technical-based qualifications, with additional classroom hours.Some 24,000 traineeships will also be created in the package, expected to be part of measures announced at next week’s Budget and spending review. Mr Sunak said: “Our future economic success depends not just on the education we give to our children but the lifelong learning we offer to adults.“This £3 billion skills revolution builds on our plan for jobs and will spread opportunity across the UK by transforming post-16 education, giving people the skills they need to earn more and get on in life.”Existing colleges in England are to be allocated £830 million with extra funding for new equipment and facilities.The National Skills Fund will be boosted with a total investment of £550 million to quadruple the number of places on the skills boot camps, which are available for adults of any age.Mr Sunak will also announce the expansion of free Level 3 courses for adults, which are equivalent to A-levels, in subjects like maths, chemistry and biology. Apprenticeship funding will also increase by £170 million to £2.7 billion in 2024/25.Meanwhile, the Telegraph reported that Mr Sunak is set to unveil a multi-million-pound boost for the NHS next week, which will include funds for a digital overhaul after Sajid Javid revealed one in 10 hospital trusts still use “paper-based systems”. The newspaper reported he is expected to confirm more than £4 billion of funding for new hospitals and hospital upgrades overall. More